Council defends hospital bus axeing

COUNCIL chiefs have moved to explain the reasoning behind proposals to withdraw a hospital bus service in the wake of savage public spending cuts.

Officers at Hartlepool Borough Council have recommended that the H1 hospital bus service, which runs between town and the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, be axed to save 85,000.

Over the next four years it is estimated that the council will have to slash its 90m budget by 20m after the Government announced spending cuts in its Comprehensive Spending Review.

The H1 service was launched in December 2007 after it was announced that maternity and children's outpatient services were moving to North Tees while facilities at the University Hospital of Hartlepool were refurbished.

In recent weeks the council's cabinet and scrutiny co-ordinating committee have met to consider the budget proposals for the 2011-12 financial year, which includes a package of cuts across all council departments.

The H1 hospital bus service is now solely funded by Hartlepool council at a cost of 85,000 per year.

Initially it was jointly funded by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust and Hartlepool Primary Care Trust (PCT).

Council officers say there are six return journeys daily but the service is not well used.

On average around 200 people use the service every week and the council is currently having to subside each journey to the amount of 9.

Labour councillor Marjorie James, chair of the scrutiny co-ordinating committee, said: "No-one likes cutting services but councillors have been left with little choice after an extremely unfair grant settlement from the Government.

"Never in our lifetime have we witnessed Government cuts on this scale and the effect across the town will be far-reaching and impact on many people.

"Members of the scrutiny forum are keen to explain the rationale behind some of their recommendations.

"We reluctantly recommend the withdrawal of the hospital bus service.

"Given the scale of Government cuts imposed on the council, it was felt that it was not possible to support its retention given the low usage and high cost to the council.

"There's also evidence that people are using the buses for purposes other than to visit hospital or patients."

Passengers using the H1 service are charged 2.70 flat fare and 4.50 return for adults or 1.35 flat fare for children and 2.25 return.

The H1 service also provides free travel for those people with a National Concessionary Bus Pass.

Cabinet's latest budget proposals for 2011-12 will be considered by the scrutiny co-ordinating committee on Friday , January 14, in the Civic Centre at 2pm. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

The cabinet committee will meet on Monday, February 7, to finalise its budget recommendations which will go to a meeting of the full council on February 10.