A local government funding row over who should pay for bus services erupted into a war of words between top regional politicians on Friday (June 16th).
The row between Bath and North East Somerset Council and West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris has seen almost 20 “supported service” bus routes in the council area axed, as both the council and the mayor insist it is the other’s responsibility to pay for them.
Instead of coming to an agreement as the West of England Combined’ Authority’s committee met on Friday June 16th, the row saw the meeting briefly devolve into an argument.
Mr Norris called Bath and North East Somerset Council’s actions “a disingenuous, mean-spirited, deceptive, devious thing to do.”
Sarah Warren, who was representing Bath and North East Somerset Council at the meeting accused him of “misrepresentation.”
The exchange followed multiple members of the public giving statements about axed bus services, which Mr Norris said had been “effectively cut by real terms cuts from local councils.”
The Metro Mayor cannot raise his own taxes and relies on being paid a “transport levy” from the councils which make up the authority, which he was claiming they had cut.
Ms Warren said: “In [Bath and North East Somerset Council]’s case that is not true. We have increased our contribution by 30% in this financial year. And you have also said that supported services are the responsibility of local councils and that is not true. You are the leader of the transport authority. The transport authority is responsible for bus services.”
But Mr Norris claimed: “I have responsibility for public transport […] but the one area where I don’t is about subsidised buses and the transport levy.”
He added: “[Bath and North East Somerset] Council determined which buses would run to get you over the election period. So you made an extension where there were going to be bus cuts to get you past that.
“I didn’t choose the routes, because if it had been done by me it would have been based on evidence. You chose the routes which left North East Somerset devastated frankly.”
All supported services within the city of Bath have been protected by the council until next year, but almost all in North East Somerset stopped running in April, with some key services funded for a few more months.
But three of these — the 82 between Paulton and Radstock, and the 179 and 768 between Midsomer Norton and Bath — were cut earlier this month, leaving older people relying on Dial-a-Ride services to to get to the shops and appointments, and younger people having to leave hours early to get to summer jobs on time.
The council is funding the Chew Valley’s 672 bus until July.
But Ms Warren said: “The evidence your officers put forward to this council would have left [Bath and North East Somerset] with only two buses in the whole of [Bath and North East Somerset] so we would have been in a much worse position.”
She added that it was “absolutely not the case” that the council had made a real terms cut in their transport levy.
Mr Norris acknowledged they had made a 30% increase this financial year, but claimed it was still a cut because the transport levy was not increased last year despite inflation in the bus sector of 40%.
He said: “It’s still a cut. It’s such a disingenuous, mean-spirited, deceptive, devious thing to do. You have been so untruthful about it, Sarah, you should be ashamed.”
She replied: “This is a misrepresentation. And that is all I will say.”
LDRS, John Wimperis