‘Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon: Making sustainable local transport happen’ is the strikingly optimistic title for the new local transport white paper. The aim of the white paper is to encourage more people to use public transport, as well as walking and cycling more often. In line with the government’s localist approach, they are putting responsibility for improving local transport squarely at the feet of local government.
Announced alongside the white paper is a new sustainable transport fund. Councils will be able to bid for a share of the £560 million set aside for sustainable initiatives over the next four years. It is difficult not to feel that while the government is giving with one hand, they have already taken away with the other. Following the spending review, bus services have been particularly hit by a range of cuts – affecting a crucial link in an integrated and sustainable local transport plan.
The Secretary of State has indicated that the average reduction in bus services, as a direct result of the 20% reduction to the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG), would be around 1.5%. But reductions in this grant are coming at the same time as spending cuts from local government. The Independent reports councils across the country are already planning to cut services and concessions. These examples show the scale of change: potential cuts to 70 services in Durham; 27 in Cornwall; 43 in Derbyshire; and several councils looking at withdrawing concessions for older people in the early mornings.
We are concerned these spending reductions will have a direct impact on older people’s ability to get out and about. The Transport Select Committee announced an inquiry into the impact of announcements in the spending review on bus services. The inquiry will also hear evidence on the implications of free off-peak travel for older and disabled people. Age UK have provided written evidence expressing our concerns and will be giving oral evidence to the Committee on 25 January.