Fight against bus cuts labelled ‘a lost cause’

REDUCTION: Richard Kemp had asked the county council whether it could subsidise Beestons bus services.
REDUCTION: Richard Kemp had asked the county council whether it could subsidise Beestons bus services.

Suffolk County Council will not subsidise bus journeys from Sudbury to Great Cornard and Haverhill which have seen trips halved by their operator.

Beestons Ltd, which is based in Hadleigh, reduced its number five service to hourly trips and the 236 route to every two hours at the beginning of the month due to a lack of customers.

Some residents from Stanstead and Great Cornard hit out at the changes, which they said would affect workers and the elderly, while the company said the changes also reflected new lesson times at Thomas Gainsborough School.

Richard Kemp, Suffolk county councillor, had asked about the possibility of Suffolk County Council subsidising the route.

He said: “It is not prepared to subsidise this route – I think it is a lost cause.

“Obviously I am disappointed as I had several representations from people in Glemsford and Stanstead and this is another dent in their hopes of having a decent service in a rural area. We are just going backwards.”

Mr Kemp added that he had had confidential discussions with another local provider who sympathised with the move by Beestons and said he cannot afford to run services at a loss.

“There is a likelihood that there may be further cuts,” he said.

Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council portfolio holder for roads and transport, said: “It is entirely Beestons’ business to decide when it will run buses.

“Neither us nor the general public have access to the trading figures for the routes in question and so cannot comment.”

Mr Newman said the council does not have the money to subsidise the route, a move which he estimated would cost around £75,000 per year and would be likely to face a legal challenge from Beestons over competition.

“We can’t fill the buses we have got at the moment so there is no way we can realistically ask an operator to run these services – there just aren’t the people to fill them,” he said.

He added that he felt Sudbury enjoyed better transport links than many comparable towns, stating that its services are “more than reasonable”.

“We are aware of changes which the Government is making to the Bus Services Operators’ Grant regime, which will mean changes to funding at a time when fuel and labour costs continue to escalate,” said Mr Newman.

“Beestons has already taken action to reduce operating costs by disposing of high fuel consumption buses, so the next step it can reasonably take to pre-empt losses is to reduce service frequencies.”

John Phillips, founder of GoStart community transport service, said that while the scheme could not risk attempting to provide a replacement service due to the increased costs, some disabled or disadvantaged customers may be eligible for its dial-a-ride scheme.

Mr Phillips added: “If there is a group such as a pensioners’ club in an area, we could provide a pre-booked service for them as a club.”

For information on GoStart, call 01787 242116.