Bus funding cuts defended

SENIOR councillors have launched a robust defence of the decision to withdraw funding for subsidised bus services which has left rural residents isolated.

Councillors said vulnerable adults and children in Hartlepool could have suffered if £287,000 for supported bus services was not axed in the recent budget.

The decision has left people in Elwick and Dalton Piercy, on the outskirts of town, cut off as bus companies say the routes are not viable.

Councillors last night defended the move at a meeting of the full council in response to a question by Jack Harrison, former chairman of Elwick Parish Council, who wanted to know the process involved and which cabinet members were in favour of the cut.

Labour councillor Robbie Payne, portfolio holder for finance and procurement, said it was the most difficult budget faced by the local authority after government grant cuts.

He said: “When we come to these decisions they are not taken lightly, a lot of background work has gone into them.”

Coun Payne added that all cabinet members – including independent Elwick councillor Hilary Thompson – had voted in favour of the proposals put to full council.

Mr Harrison added: “So Hilary Thompson, councillor for Elwick, was in favour of the withdrawal?”

Coun Payne, who said no-one was “in favour” of cutting services, added: “The cabinet’s budget proposals were considered by full council and all 37 members present voted in favour.”

He added that the bus companies had stopped the services, not the council.

Coun Thompson, who said she is working on plans that could see some bus services reinstated to the villages, said: “Every single one of us worried about the affect that the cuts would have.

“For every proposal not accepted, something else had to take its place and that could have been a cut to a vulnerable child service.

“I would ask that you remember that while we agreed the recommendations, every single councillor voted for the cuts so that they could be implemented.

“Maybe we were naive to think the bus companies would still run some routes. That was obviously not the case.”

Labour councillor Jonathan Brash agreed that services for vulnerable adults and children could have been hit if the supported bus service budget was not withdrawn.

The day time 516 Tees Valley Coach service and night time Stagecoach 518 service were axed last month, leaving villagers in Elwick and Dalton Piercy stranded.

Council bosses are currently looking at the possibility of using existing council-owned buses to provide a limited service in affected areas.