MP: ‘Bus cuts were unnecessary’

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.

HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright has hit out after a new report revealed cuts to bus services were unnecessary because the money was available in a Whitehall budget.

The new report from the cross-party Commons Transport Committee shows the Department for Transport (DfT) has ended up with £543m spare this year.

Under Government rules that money had to be handed back to the Treasury, a move criticised by the committee.

Speaking to the Hartlepool Mail, Mr Wright said if the money had been set aside for transport then it should be spent on transport.

Last year, Hartlepool Borough Council cut its £287,000 bus service subsidy budget in response to grant cuts from Government.

It led to bus companies axing routes which they said were not viable and caused village residents to be cutoff without public transport.

The villages of Dalton Piercy and Elwick and the Burbank area of town were hardest hit and residents were left feeling “angry and isolated”.

A trial service for all three communities has recently started.

The new report from the Commons Transport Committee reveals the cuts were unneccesary because there was still money available within the DfT budget.

Its report said the £543m was “likely to have exceeded the total reduction in annual revenue for the English bus industry following the Spending Review.”

MPs said the budget control was “slack” and the report added: “Money voted by Parliament for expenditure on transport should be spent on transport, not handed back to the Treasury.”

In response, Mr Wright said: “We have a particularly poor and unacceptable bus service in Hartlepool.

“Any Government support to enhance that in any way would have been more than welcome.

“It is particularly galling that any underspend in the transport budget has been returned when it could have been used to help Hartlepool.

“If money has been set aside to spend on transport then that should be spent on transport.”

In Hartlepool, the daytime 516 Tees Valley service and evening Stagecoach 518 service were stopped at the end of March last year leaving villagers without transport after councillors agreed to axe the £287,000 supported bus services funding in the budget for this year.

A DfT spokesman said: “The level of underspend only became apparent towards the end of the year and could not have been predicted earlier.”

He added despite the underspend, cuts were necessary regardless.

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