Cornwall Council agrees revised deal with Western Greyhound on concessionary fares
In late 2011, Cornwall Council unilaterally imposed a reduction in the reimbursement rate that it paid to bus operators for concessionary pass holders travelling for free. This was done because of the pressure on the Council's budgets because of reductions in government funding. The Council argued that its old reimbursement rate was high compared with other councils. However, the reduction in reimbursement rate obviously had a significant financial impact upon the bus companies, none of whom were making significant profits on their Cornwall operations.
During 2012, Western Greyhound tried for several months to argue with Cornwall Council that the reimbursement rate was not in line with a complicated formula that the Department for Transport specifies can be used if bus companies do not accept a council's proposed rate. The Council argued that, whatever the DfT formula said, the Council did not have any monies to reimburse at a higher rate.
With Western Greyhound's finances coming under severe strain, matters came to a head. On the evening of Friday 30 November, Mark Howarth, the managing director of Western Greyhound phoned me asking for help in trying to reach a deal with the Council. He warned that there was a distinct possibility that the company might have to cease operations if a deal could not be reached. Over the next few days, I lobbied the Leader of the Council and the head of transportation department and, on 4 December I, together with Councillor Dick Cole, in whose division Western Greyhound is based, met with Kevin Lavery, CC chief executive, and emphasised to him the seriousness of the situation. Over the following 2 days, Mr Lavery, along with senior officers and Cabinet members, met Mr Howarth and a new deal was agreed. In broad terms, Western Greyhound will receive an increased reimbursement of about half a million pounds this year. For story on BBC local news website, see bus subsidy deal.
This has solved the short-term problem, but the longer term problem remains of how we fund public transport in Cornwall. If more funding is not put into the network, it is inevitable that routes will be cut at some point in the near future.
The importance of a service is sometimes only appreciated when people have lost it or are about to lose it. I will continue to argue for more funding to be put into public transport to enable the network to be maintained and, if possible, expanded and improved.