CUTS to Cheshire East’s supported bus network have delivered value for taxpayers – but it comes at a cost to vulnerable residents, an opposition member insists.

Members of the council’s environment and regeneration overview and scrutiny committee discussed the impact of last year’s bus review on the network and passenger numbers last month.

The discussion was held in ‘part two’ of the meeting – meaning it was held away from the press and public – because it involved commercially sensitive information.

But now the local authority has revealed that the cost of the service to taxpayers has fallen by almost 30 per cent since the controversial cuts took place last April.

A CEC spokesman said: “Overall, the network is performing well, with more than 400,000 passengers using the supported bus services across Cheshire East between April and September 2018.

“Costs per passenger have also reduced from £2.89 in 2017-18 to £2.06 in 2018-19, ensuring better value for money for the council tax payer.

“The presentation covered the exact passenger numbers and revenue of each of the supported user services. This information is commercially sensitive and is the reason the item was restricted.”

Cllr Harold Davenport, Conservative member for Disley, is chairman of the committee which discussed the item.

“The trend seems to be a good one and members were happy with the way it has progressed,” he said.

Knutsford Guardian:

But Cllr Nick Mannion, Labour member for Macclesfield West and Ivy, insists residents who rely on the bus network are paying the price for the administration’s cut to spending on public transport.

“The budget was cut by 40 per cent and officers have made the best of a bad situation,” he said.

“But in Macclesfield, for example, there are no buses on a Sunday, a bank holiday or in the evening. If you work shifts public transport is not an option, you have to walk or get more expensive transport.

“If you can’t afford a car your employment opportunities are restricted and your mobility is restricted, that is my concern.

“For those that rely on buses they are now more isolated, their employment opportunities are restricted and they are having to use more expensive forms of public transport just to get to work.”

In the draft budget for 2019-20, CEC is considering cutting the community transport budget by £175,000 in 2019-20 and a further £25,000 in 2020-21.

That includes the cost of operating the ‘Little Bus’ dial-a-ride service, as well as staff and overhead efficiencies from CEC’s arms-length company Transport Service Solutions.

“The Little Bus provides transport options for some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” Cllr Mannion added.

Knutsford Guardian:

“It is an important piece of the public transport provision in Cheshire East and if at all possible we should retain it.”

The draft budget is due to be revised before being brought to councillors on February 21 for sign-off, with changes to be made following last autumn’s consultation.

A CEC spokesman added: “The bus service review consultation, undertaken last year, has provided valuable feedback from users of the Little Bus service and the council will use the consultation results to inform any changes to the service.”