County Hall purse holders have pledged to continue propping up Lancashire’s loss-making bus services to the tune of more than £7m a year until at least 2018.
But the Labour-run authority today issued a stark warning that its plan to protect subsidies could still be at risk if government austerity measures worsen after the General Election in May.
Councillors last week approved a three-year budget plan which included £178m of economies demanded by Westminster. Only bus subsidies and transport for children attending faith schools escaped the axe from a long list of savings suggested by officers.
But even they could come under attack if the county council is ordered to find even more savings once a new government is elected.
“The future is uncertain and we don’t know what further pressures on our budget may come in the future,” explained Coun John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport.
“I would like to work with operators to push for a better deal for Lancashire and I hope that the next government will support us in this.”
The Labour administration at County Hall agreed to continue its funding of loss-making routes - particularly in rural parts of Lancashire - after seeking the views of travellers across the county. But a thorough review of routes is now underway district-by-district in an attempt to get the best value for money out of the network, possibly by altering some routes to make them more relevant to local needs.
“During the consultation we had a very strong response from the public which confirmed my view that buses play a vital part in our economy and people’s lives by providing a lifeline to get to local services and shops, and access jobs and education,” added Coun Fillis.
Coun David Borrow, the Labour “chancellor,” who presented the authority’s financial statement last week, said: “The three-year budget doesn’t include any cuts as such in bus services. But what we don’t know is what the new government is going to do. If the cut in government grant is much more than we have anticipated, obviously we will have to look again at all our services and budgets going forward.”