Campaigners: 'Northamptonshire bus subsidy cuts will leave us stranded'
As part of stringent cost-cutting measures to save Northamptonshire County Council Â£9.6m, the local authority has announced it will review all of it's non-statutory services, including bus subsidies, meaning some villagers might have their one and only vital bus route to doctors surgeries, schools and loved ones disconnected.
One of these routes is the 33/33A service that links Milton Keynes and Northampton, passing through a number of Northamptonshire villages.Since hearing the news that their beloved bus route might be axed – campaigners from rural villages have taken to social media to shout about their frustrations.One Hartwell resident who is likely to be affected by the cuts is Emma McKenzie of Hartwell.Her mum has MS and suffers with depression. After Emma’s baby, Heidi, was born she said her little girl changed her mum’s life for the better. She told the Chronicle and Echo: “We visit my mum most days. I live in Hartwell and can’t drive and I’m not planning to any soon. I only work 11 hours a week, so as you can imagine, that isn’t a lot of money, and that all goes on my daughter. “If the buses stop, how will I see my mum? What will she have to get up for in the morning?” Emma, who catches the bus to work in Hanslope, also needs the service so she and Heidi can use the doctor’s surgery.She added: “So I wouldn’t be able to get to the doctors, I wouldn’t be able to get to work, I wouldn’t be able to see my mum, I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. “I’d be stuck in this flat with a one-year-old every single day. “This isn’t fair. Something has to be done.”Northamptonshire County Council has revealed that 31 bus routes in the county might be affected by these cuts.Mum-of-two, Hannah Goodrum who lives and works in Hartwell said: “The impact this will have on the elderly people who use this bus is quite frankly frightening. “Every Tuesday when I get the bus it is full with friendly, chatty people who meet up and go for lunch. “Many of these live alone and it’s their only way to socialise and get out. They notice if someone isn’t there and they check up on that person.”Red Rose Buses, who operate the 33/33Aroute, only took over on October 30.Red Rose Buses company inspector, Stephen Gregory said they have had a “provisional conversation” with the county council, who said that there may be bus subsidy cuts sometime next year, subject to public consultation.”“That is as far as we know at present.” The company does not know when and whether cuts will affect them.
Oakleaf Care in Hartwell, a rehabilitation centre, which looks after male residents, some who have acquired a brain injury from accidents in their homes, or via stroke, is calling for the 33/33A service to stay in service. Inge Hijink works for the centre. She said: “On their journey to recovery, they go through different stages. Each step is a milestone, one of these is travelling by public transport.”Oakleaf centre has community houses in town and some community residents work at the site in Hartwell. They help maintain the grounds, or serve customers in the on-site cafe. They often travel independently from town to Hartwell.“Not too long ago a group of therapists took some of our residents into town. They went to the Wyevale Garden Centre by bus. “Upon return one could not stop smiling and his behaviour changed - it was as if he had rediscovered his voice.“He told everyone what a lovely trip he had to the garden centre and how much he enjoyed taking the bus.”“By taking away the funding and risking cancellation of the bus service, the council is 1,000 per cent failing to see what is important.”Seven Stagecoach routes or sections of routes are also at risk county wide.The services affected in Northampton includes service 96 between Harlestone Manor roundabout and West Haddon.A spokesman from Stagecoach said: “If the decision is made to remove funding, then we will need to review that small percentage of affected routes. Without local authority funding it is highly likely that some services, or sections of services would not continue, as they are not financially viable. However there maybe a case to retain some routes in full or part.”
A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “Faced with an unprecedented increase in demand for council services, coupled with significant reductions in funding, tough decisions are needed in order to deliver a balanced budget.
“We have had no choice but to make the difficult decision to review funding of all non-statutory services. “This includes removing all money paid to support a number of bus routes across Northamptonshire.
“The proposals for removing bus subsidies formed part of Phase One of our 2018/2019 budget proposals, the consultation on which closed on December 1.
“A final decision on the proposal will be made at the February meeting of Full Council.”