Cut the politics, not the bus services

Latest Government figures show that there were 80 million fewer bus passenger journeys last year than the year before, a decrease of 1.8 per cent.

Free bus passes for OAPs and the disabled cost Government and Councils around £1 billion each year, and another £200 million is given to Bus Operators in the form of reimbursement on fuel duty for qualifying bus journeys, even to multinational groups who abandon small communities in order to monopolise profitable city centre routes.

Council-supported bus services in rural areas have reduced by approximately 40 per cent in the last decade, yet tens of millions are being spent on vanity infrastructure projects and “green” transport schemes which do nothing to improve service provision. Reductions tend to fall on evening and weekend services as these were less likely to provide access to jobs, shops, healthcare or schools; but cutting evening services can reduce daytime patronage, and weekend services can have an economic value in providing access to leisure services as well as to jobs in the night time economy.

So how could Government increase bus patronage, encourage Operators to retain marginal services, and protect those services that are commercially unviable but socially necessary?

 

ABOLISH THE ENCTS SCHEME

The English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS, otherwise known as “the free bus pass”) provides pensioners and some disabled people free off peak travel on all local bus services in England at a cost of £797.9 million per year, paid through Local Authorities (LAs) to Bus Operators by reimbursing lost cash revenue on the principle that they would be “no better and no worse off” as a result of the scheme.

In September 2014 Greener Journeys produced a report in which they claimed that, having analysed the costs and benefits of the ENCTS scheme, that for every £1 spent on it “generated at least £2.87 in benefits” to the economy as a whole.  It states “half of the benefits accrue directly and immediately to concessionary travellers themselves (enhanced bus service frequencies, smart and integrated ticketing).”  Greener Journeys extrapolated Department for Transport assumptions on the elasticity of bus service kilometres to passenger demand to estimate that “the provision of concessionary travel will lead to… a 10 per cent increase in the number of bus kilometres”.  The report went on to predict that “the additional patronage generated by the concessionary scheme may mean that operators are able to deliver services which may otherwise be at risk.”

But analysis of official statistics by the BBC Shared Data Unit found the UK bus network has shrunk by 8 per cent in the last decade, which equates to 214,400 fewer bus kilometres.  There are a number of reasons why Britain’s bus network is shrinking in size, according to John Disney, a transport researcher and lecturer at Nottingham Business School:

“Operators have definitely, over the last 10 years, become much more risk averse and so they are really concentrating on what they consider to be their core routes and are not really bothered about much else.  At the same time many local authorities, which would have stepped up to subsidise unprofitable routes, have reduced this spending.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) is warning that this continued decline could increase traffic congestion and reduce air quality in local communities, that marginal bus services will remain under threat, and that because LAs are spending at least £200 million a year to subsidise the ENCTS, other services such as bin collections and filling potholes are being neglected.

Councillor Martin Tett, LGA Transport spokesman, said:

“It is hugely concerning to see such a steady decrease in bus journeys.  Buses provide a vital service for our communities and a lifeline for our most vulnerable residents to go shopping, pick up medication, attend doctor appointments or socialise with friends.  Councils know how important buses are for their residents and local economies and are desperate to protect them.  It’s nearly impossible for councils to keep subsidising free travel while having to find billions of pounds worth of savings and protect other vital services like caring for the elderly, filling potholes and collecting bins.  Faced with significant funding pressures, many across the country are being forced into taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes.  The way the concessionary travel scheme is funded by Whitehall has not kept up with growing demand and cost.  By… properly funding the free bus pass schemes the Government could help us support and maintain our essential bus services, reduce congestion and protect vital routes.”

Only last month Kent County Council introduced “The Big Conversation”, a public consultation where they invite the public to “explore ideas” to find out if there is a better, more sustainable way of providing transport to rural communities not currently served by Operators.  Pointedly they highlight the fact that they have issued over 252,000 ENCTS bus passes, and are now looking to reduce funding for bus services.  Derbyshire County Council held a similar consultation two years ago, and many other LAs including Lincolnshire and Northampton have seen supported bus networks decimated.

As regards ticketing, this has been achieved not through ENCTS but BSOG, which provides a partial reimbursement of fuel duty paid by Operators on qualifying journeys (currently around 34 pence per litre), with an additional 8 per cent uplift for Operators who have introduced “smart and integrated ticketing”.

The Greener Journeys report went on to claim that around 20% of the benefits of the ENCTS scheme were enjoyed by other bus passengers and other road users from transport network improvements (modal transfer from car to bus, with associated highway decongestion benefits, environmental improvements and accident savings). But again, modal shift has been in he opposite direction.  The BBC analysis attributes the shrinking bus network to “rising car use”.  A report produced by the Department for Transport “Road Use Statistics” in 2016 explains that although traffic growth slowed over the last two decades, and levels fell for three consecutive years after the 2008/09 economic downturn, recent trends show a resumption of traffic growth as GDP recovers, and provisional statistics suggest that car traffic has returned to pre-recession levels.  This debunks the Greener Journeys claim that the ENCTS scheme creates modal shift from car to bus, as now there is no such shift.

The final benefit claimed by Greener Journeys was that to the wider community (wider economic impacts from increased levels of volunteering, health and wellbeing benefits associated with more active lifestyles greater centralisation of social and health service provision). This last claim is particularly interesting as later in the report Greener Journeys admit that they “have not been able to quantify the impacts of concessionary travel on social inclusion, mental health and wellbeing.”  Despite this they went on to predict that the magnitude of these benefits is “potentially substantial”, with the Royal Voluntary Service estimating that the value of older people participating in voluntary work, social care and child care is £10 billion, £34 billion and £3 billion respectively, without actually providing any evidence whatsoever that these figures would reduce if the ENCTS scheme was withdrawn, instead vaguely assuming that modal shift “might occur”.

Martin Griffiths, Stagecoach CEO, claims the government is putting bus services at risk by concealing the cost of free travel for pensioners from the public, according to the boss of Stagecoach, who compared the policy to ordering Tesco to give OAPs free food. He said:

“I won’t provide a service and not get properly paid for it. You would not go to Tesco and say to them – ‘great idea, we’re going to let OAPs have free food’.  They cannot stand up there and be dishonest with people and say we’re going to have a scheme but not fund it properly.  That punishes people who do pay, whether it’s full-fare paying adults or the children or young adults who I want to be the passengers of the future.  Are there some passengers who board our buses who could probably afford to pay? Of course they could.  As a voter, I want to know bus services are going to be protected. They have to decide what is the prioritisation.  They can’t be dishonest just because these people vote – 8 million of them, they all vote so don’t tamper with the concession scheme.  Politicians are being disingenuous with all of us.”

He is correct.  Already “passengers of the future” are being exploited to plug the gap left by the loss of revenue as a result of the ENCTS scheme and the reimbursement levels which are leaving Operators worse off, despite promises to the contrary.  In Greater Manchester the previously heavily subsidised child fares and risen very significantly since the introduction of ENCTS to cover the funding shortfall for the scheme.  And in Derbyshire the b_line scheme, which offered a 50 per cent discount on adult fares to children aged 11 to their sixteenth birthday, was withdrawn, instead relying on Operators to provide any subsidy to child fares.  For young persons aged 16 to 19, instead of giving 33 per cent off full adult bus and train fares, the discount was reduced to just 25 per cent.

Operators would be more inclined to offer generous discounts to children (and OAPs if the ENCTS scheme was withdrawn) for commercial reasons if those passengers paid a proportion of the fare (say, half) and were reimbursed the difference in full.  OAPs never demanded such a scheme, indeed where bus services have fallen under threat because of reduced funding, they often say they would rather pay something towards the fare.

The main problem with the ENCTS scheme is that Operators are not fully reimbursed for the revenue lost by pass holders no longer paying fares.  Calculating reimbursement clearly requires an ability to determine what revenue Operators would have received if the scheme did not exist.  As this cannot possibly be known, this has to be estimated, and this is therefore dependent on knowing the number of journeys that would have been made by concessionary travellers (known as “non-generated journeys” – they would have happened anyway).  This is also not known.  Then a calculation is made to determine how many additional journeys have been made by concessionary travellers (“generated journeys”).  This can be calculated by taking the current number of journeys (known) and subtracting from it the number of non-generated journeys (unknown) giving an unknown number of generated journeys.  There are also additional small provisions for increased administration and operating costs.

The principle of reimbursement supposedly ensures that Operators are “no better or no worse off”; no better to ensure that EU State Aid regulations are not broken, and no worse to ensure – in theory – that Operators do are not punished.  EU Regulation Number 1370/2007 states that an allowance for ‘reasonable profit’ must be made in the reimbursement of bus operators.  There is an implicit allowance for Operator profit within the revenue forgone element of reimbursement through the average fare forgone.  It goes on to recommend that a profit allowance be made, in the form of rate on return on capital employed for additional peak vehicle requirements.  The total reimbursement usually works out such that Operators are paid between 30 and 50 per cent of the average adult fare.  However, research conducted by the University of Hull suggested that journeys undertaken by concessionary passengers since the introduction of the scheme have increased by 34 per cent.  This means that if, for example, 100 passengers were previously paying £1 each per journey before the scheme (total £100), and then 134 passengers (100 passengers plus 34 per cent) paid nothing, at best Operators would receive £67 based on a 50 per cent reimbursement of the £1 fare, a loss of a third (£33) of the expected revenue.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Greener Journeys report was that, in all of its 31 pages, mention of Operator reimbursement was limited to a brushing away of any interest: “We have assumed that this principle [that Operators should be ‘no better and no worse off’ as a result of carrying concessionary passengers] holds and that the net impact of concessionary travel on Operator profitability is zero.  We note however that Operator reimbursement is technically complex and contended.”

The LGA is calling on the Government to increase funding for the ENCTS scheme.  They say Government funding for the statutory scheme has fallen by 39 per cent since 2010 and councils are having to use their own funds to fill the gap.  “Unless the Government commits to fully funding concessionary fares, elderly and disabled people will be left stranded with a free bus pass in one hand but no local buses to travel on.”

By abolishing the ENCTS scheme altogether, Operators would be free to charge a reduced commercial rate for OAPs and the disabled, as National Express already successfully does.  The funding provided for the scheme, around £1 billion from central and local Governments, could be devolved to LAs to reinstate withdrawn socially necessary services, evening and Sunday services and other unviable or marginal services, particularly in rural areas.  Although the overall number of journeys made under the ENCTS scheme would undoubtedly reduce, these would almost entirely be socially unnecessary and repeated leisure journeys, and this number would be largely offset by more worthwhile journeys in areas which currently have a very poor or even no bus service but would see their services improved.

 

ABOLISH THE BUS SERVICE OPERATORS GRANT

Around 80 per cent of bus services nationally are commercially viable.  These services are primarily funded by passenger fares, with no direct funding from councils.  However, Operators receive a Bus Service Operators’ Grant (BSOG) which is a fuel duty rebate paid directly to Operators by Government at a cost to the Exchequer of £199.5m per year..

The fact that the BSOG is tied directly to fuel duty means that its benefits accrue to Operators irrespective of the wider social and economic benefits of a service and is paid even when a service would be profitable without it.  Large Operators can enjoy many millions of pounds of BSOG funding despite concentrating their operations on hugely lucrative town and city centre services, while at the same time abandoning marginal and unprofitable services in rural areas, leaving them to be picked up by small, family run concerns subsidised by LAs.  It is these very services that are at risk of being cut, meaning that effectively the BSOG scheme makes the rich Operators richer and poor ones poorer.

The Campaign for Better Transport recently detailed how council funding had been cut by £182 million – 45 per cent – since 2010, including £20.5m last year for same period the UK Bus operations of First between them received £39,609,689.20 of BSOG funding, DOUBLE the total amount cut from spending on bus services by LAs, and representing 12.5 per cent of their operating profit. This meant 199 routes were altered or completely withdrawn last year, 3,347 since 2010.  Steve Chambers, the group’s public transport campaigner, said:

“Our latest report confirms that the slow death of the supported bus continues, with local authority bus budgets suffering yet another cut this year.  The resulting cuts to services mean many people no longer have access to public transport, with rural areas hit especially hard.  The cuts would have an adverse effect on the local economy, with people prevented from getting to shops and businesses, affecting people’s mental and physical health too.”

The LGA would prefer this money to be devolved to local authorities who could target the subsidy at the most socially necessary but otherwise unprofitable services.  This approach has been trialled in Better Bus Areas (BBA) with encouraging initial results; for example patronage has grown in Merseyside since devolution of the BSOG and the formation of their BBA.

The BBA principle is sound enough, but the almost £200 million spent on the BSOG scheme should be pooled with the £1 billion spent on the ENCTS scheme to effectively turn the whole country into a BBA.  The only caveat would be that some of the money spent in BBAs is diverted to “green and sustainable” aspects of bus service provision, which does absolutely nothing for service provision.

 

ABOLISH LOW EMISSION BUS SCHEMES

In March 2018 the Government announced £48 million for “cleaner, greener buses” as part of a “New Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme” aimed at cutting emissions and ensuring cleaner and greener journeys.  The programme will see LAs and Operators bid for a share of the fund, which they can use to buy hundreds of new ultra-low emission buses as well as the infrastructure to support them. Buses Minister Nusrat Ghani said:

“We are doing more than ever before to reduce greenhouse gas pollution across all modes of transport and we are committed to ensuring nearly all cars and vans are emissions-free at their tailpipes by 2050.  In order to achieve this ambitious target, the transport sector is going to have to change dramatically over the next couple of decades – and buses are no exception.  We are confident this scheme will encourage councils and operators to invest in these ultra-low emission vehicles – speeding up the full transition to a low emission bus fleet in England and Wales.”

Claire Haigh, Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, said:

“[The] announcement is a fantastic step in the UK’s fight against air pollution and we’re delighted that the government has recognised the important and vital role that buses play in helping reducing harmful emissions. The cleanest diesel buses emit fewer emissions overall than the cleanest diesel cars, despite being able to carry 20 times more passengers.  Buses are also the lifeblood of our communities, connecting families and getting people to work.  [The] announcement sends a positive message that the government is serious about connecting the communities it serves and committed to putting the bus at the heart of the clean air solution.”

The current funding comes as part of a wider £100 million scheme announced in November 2016, including £30 million last year to support low-emission buses. £2.25 million was awarded to The Harrogate Bus Company will transform journeys for thousands of passengers in the North Yorkshire town.  The Harrogate Bus Company is a subsidiary of Transdev,

The Harrogate Bus Company have recently introduced eight 100 per cent electric powered new buses, and install charging points at key locations to keep them on the move, although they admit that buses will have to stand “a little longer” at bus stations to recharge, and timetables have had to be adjusted to accommodate this. Transdev CEO Alex Hornby said:

“I’m delighted and immensely proud that we’re one of only 13 organisations to secure funding this year under the Government’s Low Emission Bus Scheme.  The aim of our innovative bid was to attract funding that will take electric buses to the next level in the UK, and the contribution will allow us to introduce the next generation of electric buses to Britain and our home town of Harrogate.  It’s a further sign of our determination to set new standards for bus travel and is great news for our passengers.”

Transport Minister and Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said:

“This is positive news for our area and for the quality of life of local people.  Harrogate is set to become a low emission bus town.  Transdev have shown huge ambition: the technology for this is a first for the UK. Improving air quality and cutting carbon emissions are transport priorities for the Government.  But they are more than that.  They are a priority for local people who want our air to be clean and our environment improved.  That is why this news is so significant, because it will deliver those goals for local people.  There were many bids from large organisations for this cash.  It is a testament to the powerful case put forward by Transdev, and supported by Harrogate Borough Council, that we have won £2.25 million of that cash.  The Harrogate bid was a winner competing with those big cities, such as Sheffield, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Birmingham.”

The new buses for The Harrogate Bus Company will operate on an already profitable route, and will feature free superfast 4G Wi-Fi, USB power points, plush leather coach seats, personal tables with quilted leather seating and a chill-out area on the lower deck.  Which is all very good, but does nothing for those areas of North Yorkshire who have had their services cut or withdrawn altogether. Public transport campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), Lianna Elkins, said:

“Buses across Yorkshire have been hit hard by funding cuts. These cuts come on top of cuts to school transport and the underfunding of free pensioner travel; together these threaten the viability of whole bus networks and will lead to ‘transport deserts’ in some rural and suburban areas where there is no public transport at all.”

In Yorkshire, the total budget for supported bus services has been slashed by £2.7 million from £32.6 million to £29.8 million, a figure of nine per cent in the past financial year.  The biggest cuts were in North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) budgets, with a 51 per cent fall in funding of £1.4 million.  Yet a grant of £2.25 million has been given to an Operator which has a turnover of £8.9 million and just a few years ago imposed huge cuts to bus services across Harrogate (Harrogate Advertiser, July 17, 2009).  Changing from diesel to electric buses and installing multi million pound infrastructure than can only be used by a handful of buses does absolutely nothing to improve service provision.  It doesn’t reinstate services to the isolated communities of rural North Yorkshire, doesn’t enhance frequencies on poorly served routes, and doesn’t actually do anything to reduce air pollution, as the carbon dioxide not produced by electric buses (though nobody has thought about how the electricity is generated) is more than offset by the cars now replacing withdrawn bus services.  Surely this money would have been better spend preserving socially necessary but commercially unviable bus services?

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central:

“If we are to address these [air pollution] problems then we really need to have effective services.  We already know there’s narrowing of services on a Sunday and into the evening.  That results in people using private transport which adds to the problems.  We need to encourage as many people as possible to use public transport in order to improve the air quality.  We want to encourage more public transport, it’s there for everybody and it increases mobility.  Every time bus services are cut back it does have a real impact on the wider community.”

It’s not just in North Yorkshire that the backslapping is going on to celebrate unproductive vanity projects.  Down south, Oxford City Council have secured £1.7 million of Government funding under the same scheme earlier to upgrade 78 buses to be ultra-low emission over the next 18 months – and convert five of Oxford’s sightseeing buses to become the city’s first fully electric double decker buses. Which is marvellous.  Except at the same time Oxfordshire County Council have cut their public transport budget, including the Sunday X47 service from Ardington to Wantage, Ashbury, and Swindon, peak time Abingdon town services 41, 42 and 44, and service 65 from Faringdon to Swindon bus.

 

BUSES FOR EVERYONE

Three Government schemes, setup with the best of intentions, are targeting the wrong areas.  They are providing greater benefits where they are not needed at the expense of those who often have no alternative.  The ENCTS scheme provides what is effectively a blank cheque to OAPs and the disabled regardless of their means, or whether their journeys are necessary, and yet children, the very people the Government should be encouraging to use public transport, are being penalised to make up the shortfall in ENCTS reimbursement.  Children in rural areas are just as isolated as the elderly, need the same access to services, to learn and to play.

The BSOG scheme simply enhances the profits of already affluent Operators, while having little effect on the demise of rural services.  Indeed, recent changes to the scheme has meant that BSOG cannot be claimed for services supported by LAs; these services are often the ones most at risk of withdrawal.

And the Low Emission Bus Schemes simply subsidise capital investment for large, multinational groups with a hollow promise of cleaner air, forgetting of course that while the generously remunerated Directors gaze out of their office windows at their shiny new buses, the rural pensioner stares wistfully in the distance, hoping for any kind of bus at all.

Better, then, to pool all of this money, around ONE AND A QUARTER BILLION POUNDS each year, and give it to LAs to support those services which the larger Operators feel they cannot run.  The marginal, the commercially unviable services.  The rural, evening and Sunday services.  Get communities moving again, get people back on the buses.  That’s how to reduce air pollution.  That’s how to reduce isolation.  Supporting local families, including OAPs and the disabled in getting out and about.  Supporting local, family owned bus Operators who specialise in providing such services.  Scrap the disproportionately unfair subsidised fares, the profit enhancing grants, the vanity projects and all the administration that goes with them.  Scrap the interference from “quality partnerships”, devolved regions, Mayors, and egos sitting on PTE boards.  Scrap the lot.  Let Bus Operators run buses on a level playing field.  Let buses get communities moving.

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Marching Season

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The DUP “confidence and supply” deal to keep the Conservatives in government has not only seen the votes of their 10 MPs become more influential that they’d ever dreamed, but the marching season, traditionally synonymous with Northern Irish politics, has also spread across the UK, though instead of commemorating the Battle of the Boyne and the Siege of Derry, in England the cause célèbres are cuts and austerity.  Actually the recent fad for marches can, in part, be put down to what is being called “The Corbyn Effect”.

Since Jeremy Corbyn, who for all the allegations of links to and sympathising with terrorists organisations including the IRA, became leader of the Labour Party he has attended rallies across the country, whipping up crowds of enthused supporters seemingly ignorant of the disaster that befell the country – and the Labour Party – the last time they were in power with a genuinely socialist leader.

The “Not One Day More” march on Parliament Square on July 1st neatly illustrates the problem with socialism, which is an unearned sense of entitlement.  Even though the Labour Party clearly lost the recent General Election, protestors feel that because Theresa May is relying on the DUP to maintain a government majority then she doesn’t have a mandate to govern whereas Labour, who lost by around a million votes and fifty-odd seats, does.

People attending the march feel that austerity has gone too far and that cuts – real or perceived – to spending on the NHS, schools, police and housing are causing suffering and insecurity.  They say that the disabled are being cruelly treated and yet many joined in with the protests which led me to start what could politely be described as “a heated debate” on Twitter.  I dared to suggest that if somebody who had convinced the Department for Work and Pensions, via a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), that they were unfit for work, then they really shouldn’t be at the march. “What about mental health?” and “What about those in wheelchairs?” were just two of the many (and repeatable) responses, and my answer is this:

If someone, anyone, is mentally and physically capable of leaving the safety and sanctuary of their own home to attend or participate in a march where they are interacting with, and moving around and along with thousands of strangers, and sustaining this over several hours then they are surely capable of some kind of work, in which case if they’ve fluked or conned their way through their WCA in order to avoid work and therefore do not contribute to the NHS, schools, police and housing then they have forfeited their right to complain.  Not only that, but if these people actually had any dignity, showed some responsibility and instead of indulging in left wing circle jerkery actually went out to work to earn the money to pay the taxes to fund the NHS, schools, police and housing, then there wouldn’t need to be any cuts to march about.

 

Brexit: “alternative comedy” has choked on its own vomit

Back in the late 1970s British television took a marked change of direction. Traditional sitcoms such as The Good Life, George & Mildred and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em which never sought to do anything other than make people laugh, were replaced by what became known as “alternative comedy”. This gave birth to such programmes as Not The Nine O’Clock News, The Young Ones followed by Saturday Live, where their stars would make a virtue out of railing against the Establishment, championing proactive democracy, “power to the people” and all that. It made careers for the likes of Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle and Jeremy Hardy, who most recently thought SNP MP Kevan Jones, who has publicly spoken about suffering mental illness throughout his life and doesn’t share his views on Trident renewal was fair game for this zinger: “I would have thought you could hazard a guess that if someone supports nuclear weapons, if your view of existence is so bleak you’re prepared to help with the extermination of the entire northern hemisphere, that kind of suggests depression, don’t you?”, self-styled “alternative comedians” who inflicted their unsophisticated dreck upon impressionable kids who sucked it all up with the gratitude and ignorance of a parched dog drinking from a public toilet.

In the Noughties and now we have Marks Steel, Thomas and Usbrigstocke, and still Jeremy Hardy. Little has changed. They always think they’re right – whether in comedy and politics – and everybody else are basically mentally deranged Nazi sympathisers.

They were and still are happy to take the Establishment shilling while shitting their political invective onto an eagerly wanking audience to the point where it’s adulation became rimming. Even Private Eye, born out of the satire boom of the early 1960s, would – often at great legal expense – seek to expose cronyism and corruption perpetrated by institutions of all levels of Government, local, national or international.

These stars, shows and satirical magazines sought to represent their audience in a way which “the people” couldn’t do for themselves, with a platform unavailable to the masses but cornered and guarded fiercely by those fortunate enough to enjoy their position of celebrity and responsibility.

Campaigning for change, to the political system and politics as a whole, was exactly what the self-styled icons of anti-Establishment had built their careers – and fortunes on, with some stand-up comedians earning millions of pounds per year from hard-working fans, doing a 90-minute set telling those same people without a modicum of irony how little money they have. Their livelihoods were dependent on fawning fans lapping up their bile, worshipped by those who could do nothing in the vain hope that their idols could make things happen. For decades, this was a bit like trying to sixty-nine in a hammock: an interesting experience but of uncertain duration.

And so over the years “alternative” became the Establishment lapdog, the mainstream, having lured an entire generation, incapable of forming opinions for themselves, into blind, unquestioning obedience. If you think of the mainstream media as the Stadio Sant’Elia, then the part that isn’t all gooey-eyed about political institutions would be roughly represented by the bit where Gary Lineker wiped his backside in Italia ’90, way back when diarrhoea would pour from the hole between his lower rather than upper cheeks. But the thing is, the enormous smug egos that form this mainstream media have finally succumbed to that well-known but most annoying of cholesterol problems: egg on face. They’d been found out. In the last few years, through the explosion of social media – Twitter in particular – Establishment figures have become more accessible. No longer did TV shows and magazines, once the sole purveyors of Establishment-bashing, hold a monopoly in anti-deferential behaviour towards the great and the good. And soon, people realised that not only could they throw out the odd snarky Tweet about the political issue of the day, or whinge endlessly about how disconnected they’ve become from the political system and politics as a whole, but with enough numbers they could have influence. They could organise. They could effect change. And given the right opportunity, that change could be massive.

And so to the most important political upheaval in modern times. In the General Election of 2015 then Prime Minister, David Cameron promised a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) and would therefore have a mandate – if Cameron won the election – to follow through on the result, whatever it was.

And so the referendum came in June 2016, and the electorate, fed up of having laws decided by an unelected body in a different country, with the EU, it’s institutions and regulations registering “gushing” on the cronyism cum-o-meter, over 17.5 million people – 52% of voters – decided that Britain should leave the EU.

In Britain people had voted for change. Massive change. In their millions people had chosen the option so progressive they’d provided the most disruptive, the greatest systemic shift in how politics was done, and most importantly over all, they had taken to the stage and performed their own anti-Establishment show. And their audience was huge.

It was like fucking someone up the arse for the first time. The thought of what they were going into may at first have seemed unpleasant, off-putting even. But that didn’t matter, because the experience would be wonderful, the climax majestic and for the first time they’d shafted something they’d never thought they would: Brexit. People were prepared to put up with the prospect of shit in return for lashings of hot spunk, the resulting creampie being deliciously satisfying. And you can’t get more progressive than that.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, after all of that anti-Establishment anarchy and the now box-ticking British televisual representatives of cutting edge satire, swivel-eyed (sorry, lazy-eyed) race-baiter Jonathan Romesh Ranganathan and his ilk (to borrow the phrase used by William Keegan in The Guardian about Nigel Farage) would be dancing through the streets, their cause won, their careers vindicated, right?

Wrong. If there’s any truth in the phrase that we learn from our mistakes then these people should be geniuses, in fact they’ve been found out. Rather like those pub “brawls” you see when old men square up to each other, both happy to shout “come on then” but too afraid to fight. And that is exactly how those oh-so-brave stars of screen and print are. Spineless. Their bottle has gone. And so instead to try and retain some relevance, they enthusiastically, morbidly predict doom. Armageddon. World War Three. Billions in debt. Muslims deported. Chocolate made illegal (well, a tax on sugar). And when even the University of Cambridge, whose alumni include some of today’s “top comedians” admits that forecasts “were very flawed and very partisan”, lefty columnists have to resort to the ridiculous. Here’s Mark Steel in The Independent:

“And to comply with free movement of labour, the EU is going to ban teaspoons – if you want your tea stirred you’ll have to let a Bulgarian do it with his knob. All our pets will have to be handed in to Brussels in exchange for a huge European Superpet. Then, once Turkey is admitted into the EU, they’ll invite black holes to join too, so we’ll all be swallowed into perpetual darkness – costing us up to £12 a year extra in lightbulbs. The moon will be designated Slovakian and given a flat in Exeter, causing havoc with tides along the coast of Devon, and Jihadism will be taught at nursery schools that will be failed by Ofsted if they don’t explode once a week.”

There’s nothing they’d like more than for Brexit to go wrong, to justify their opinion, their careers, even their very existence. Even Eric Idle, admittedly the least interesting or funny of the Pythons but still a part of what was arguably the forerunner to “alternative” comedy (with apologies to Spike Milligan), described those wishing to leave the EU as “brain dead”.

And we were all stupid for making it happen, see? All that anti-Establishment stuff… “The EU wasn’t that bad…” and “the older generation have condemned the young to a life of misery” which led to 78-year-old Guardian columnist William Keegan to describe Brexiteers as “so-called people”.

The thing is, now the “so-called people” have seen the light, realise what they can achieve, the TV shows and magazines, once the sole purveyors of Establishment-bashing, can’t offer anything. No hope, no solution, no change. They’ve been found out. Their relevance extinguished, “alternative comedy” has choked on its own vomit.

Bashing the Bishop

Another year, another cumfest of bitterness as The Guardian panders to what the The Right Reverend Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley describes as the “middle-class Est­abl­­ishment bandwagon of outrage and horror” with another circle jerk biscuit of dreck about Brexit.

One of the central objections of the result of last year’s EU referendum is that Brexiteers were predominantly the elderly (and racists, workers, Northerners, plus anyone who hasn’t tongued Owen Jones’ ring-piece). Indeed, Dan Rebellato – who styles himself as “world-renowned playwright” and who was recently profiled in The Guardian (where else?) has recently produced on Twitter an “alt-right bingo card” of truly horrendous graphic design, which sought to generalise what he saw as typical pro-Brexiteer insults, including “libtard” and “snowflake” while using “truly horrendous graphic design”.

So here’s 78-year-old former BBC economics advisor, libtard and snowflake (HOUSE!) William Keegan, feeding his colostomy bag in The Guardian:

“This is the year when our politicians and the so-called ‘people’ – all 28% of the population who voted to leave the European Union – will reap what they have sown. Unfortunately, unless sense prevails, the rest of us will also suffer the product of their wild oats.”

Britain leaving the EU allows for the development of trade relations with all counties of the world, not just the elite couple of dozen members of the regulation and canapés EU. The Leave side (colloquially known as “Brexiteers”) won by over a million votes, with one Guardian reader crying:

“The tragedy is that the neolithic system of simple-majority-voting has given the generally less-well educated Brexiteers a colossal boost to their egos.”

Ha!!  The usual argument against the tried and tested voting system used for the referendum – by the losing side – was that Brexiteers didn’t win a clear majority, because babies, children and the mentally ill weren’t allowed to vote, which the Remain side thinks would’ve given them millions of extra votes, something which writes its own punchline. Keegan went on:

“It would be good if the majority of members of parliament could recall and act upon Edmund Burke’s 1774 address to the electors of Bristol: they should summon up the courage to act as representatives, not delegates of constituencies where they fear the threat from the xenophobic forces conjured up by the likes of Nigel Farage.”

“Lord King [former Governor of the Bank of England] has come out as a Brexiteer, which is not very helpful to his successor, who can sense a prospective train crash and was quite right to warn about the impact on the pound of a Leave vote – and who, with the help of his colleagues at the Bank, has been doing his best to keep the show on the road since.”

“He [King] was, of course, speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, which ever since the beginning of the referendum campaign seems to have gone out of its way to give prominence to Monsieur Farage and his ilk.”

“They were at it again last week, with the shameless Michael Gove heavily revising his castigation of ‘experts’, seemingly narrowing the field of the accused to the category of economic forecasters.”

“Anyway, while wishing readers as happy a new year as events allow, I should like to end with this wonderful quote from Jan Kamieniecki in a letter to the Financial Times: ‘I suspect that what Michael Gove meant to say was that the people in this country have had enough of exports.’”

Ho ho fucking ho.  In one article packed with bile, invective and a cream pie of generalisations, Keegan has not only accused the BBC of being a mouthpiece for those well-known neo-Nazis Michael Gove, Nigel Farage “and his ilk”, he’s simply highlighted the cancer that increasingly possesses the Left and mainstream media as a whole, particularly the Guardian and the BBC, whereby if you disagree with their point of view, you’re inevitably and invariably something-ist or whatever-ophobic. Taken to its extreme, one Guardianista, commenting on Keegan’s article, even went so far as to suggest Brexiteers were homophobic:

“Given their liking for framing the EU debate in macho terms, I’m sure there’s a fare [sic] few Brexiteers will be uncomfortable with the idea that the UK is ”Coming Out'”.

It is possible that Brexiteers are more aspirational than their Remain counterparts. Maybe they want to better themselves, try something other than a system that has served them badly, that has not allowed them to flourish. Maybe instead of sneering at those who want to achieve, want to get on, maybe instead of whinging and whining and crying into their own glasses of milk while wanking over Jeremy Kyle AND GET SOME FUCKING WORK DONE.

More tea, vicar?  The middle-class outrage has also infested the Church of England, Britain’s largest landowner and so middle class dominated it can barely see beyond its arguments over issues such as sexuality even to notice the concerns of the poor it should be serving, says Bishop Philip North, who claimed that the Church had largely been taken by surprise by the result of the Brexit referendum in June because it had become out of touch with life in deprived areas.

In the Church Times, Bishop North characterised clergy as increasingly embarrassed by ideas once promoted by the Church such as patriotism, family values and the virtues of hard work.

He said the referendum result was less of a backlash against immigration than a “patriotic vote from people who were fed up with having pride in their nation, its flag, and its armed forces misrepresented as intolerance or racism”.

He said that despite, uniquely for any organisation, having a presence in every community in England, the Church is no longer “adequately present” in areas of deprivation and “so discon­nected from many of these communities that it no longer hears what they are saying”.

He went on: “The Church’s agenda is being set not by the poor, but by academia, the moneyed elites, and certain sections of the secular media. It is their preoccupations that dictate the terms of the Church’s debate, and that pose the questions that it expends its energy on answering.

Indeed.  A twenty-something friend from a part of England known as “down South” set up a public transport business in his late teens.  He made mistakes, some more serious than others, some having a greater and wider impact than others, but he was learning.  And despite the doom-mongers and “enthusiasts” (self-proclaimed experts in the field of public transport who enthuse about nothing except late 1970s clothing and cheese sandwiches) who, as I wrote in a New Year message to him – “…whether it be TV, restaurants, books, food, wine, hotels, whatever – all industries where people make a living as critics without a) actually having produced ANYTHING in their chosen field and b) have no professional qualification or experience on which to base their judgements.  Basically they’re small, bitter and often jealous people who contribute nothing to society and think a visit to their local cottage is a posh first date” – he has flourished, exploring new markets and new opportunities proving, after a little guidance, the doubters wrong.

And that, folks, is Brexit. A bumpy ride but an fascinating and enjoyable journey.

Entitlement instead of responsibility? No deal

Whether it was tapping his foot to his music, or under a public toilet cubicle divide, George Michael made his name performing in public.  But since his death there have been many tales of his anonymous philanthropy, doling out cash to members of the public whose causes he deemed worthy of his largesse, including giving tens of thousands of pounds to people who couldn’t afford medical treatments, while trying to keep his actions away from a ravenous media. One way or another, he enjoyed discreetly pleasuring anonymous strangers.

One of the recipients of Michael’s hand-outs was a leg-up for a lady who’d appeared on Deal Or No Deal, the luck-based game show where people reveal the contents of their boxes, hosted by Noel Edmonds who has recently launched ‘Positively Pets’, a radio station for pussies.  After George Michael’s death the shows producer, Richard Osman tweeted: “A woman on ‘Deal Or No Deal’ told us she needed £15k for IVF treatment.  George Michael secretly phoned the next day and gave her the £15k.”

Whether it was through being horrified at the thought of someone shooting their load up a woman rather than through a gloryhole, or genuine compassion, our hero’s donation will mean that, subject to complications (multiple births, spread of disease and birth defects) the victim (everything has to be somebody’s fault, see) will have been able to make the same lifestyle choice as those who can conceive naturally (subject, of course, to the less than 1 in 3 chance of success).  The thing is, although GM (appropriately enough) will have donated £15,000 for the IVF treatment, the “mother” will receive almost double that in child benefit and tax credits.  And guess who’ll be paying for that?  Yeah, YOU, hardworking plebs.

YOU.

This raises two issues: the first is that with over 5,000 children awaiting adoption placements, it would have perhaps been more ethically and morally responsible for the “mother” to have adopted a child who needs a mother and a stable family to help with their life chances and mental wellbeing, rather than the mother undergoing unreliable and costly treatment because she “needs” a child like her next fix.  A child which would be statistically more likely to develop mental illnesses including autism, ADHD, clinical depression and hypertension, to fill the gaping, empty hole in her life (and not the one between her legs) without a thought for the child (should it materialise) or anyone else.

Secondly and more generally, should people have children – naturally or not – and have that child financially supported by other taxpayers to the tune of almost £30,000 in benefits and tax credits alone? Having children is a lifestyle choice: holidays, cars, a dog or a new iPhone are all lifestyle choices, and a common sense principle of “if you can’t afford to have it, don’t” is not unreasonable.  So why do people think this shouldn’t apply to having children?  Let’s look at the history of state-sponsored spunkery.

After a brief spell in the late 18th century, child tax allowances were introduced in 1909 and were paid only to taxpaying, working people.  In 1942, when you’d be forgiven for thinking there was something more pressing, an additional Family Allowance (FA) was introduced, but there was disagreement among Labour and Conservative politicians about the way it should be implemented.

The Beveridge Report, written by the civil servant William Beveridge, proposed an allowance of eight shillings per week for all children, which graduated according to age, to be non-contributory and funded by general taxation.  After some debate, the Family Allowances Bill was enacted in June 1945, which provided for a flat rate payment funded directly from taxation. The recommended eight shillings a week was reduced to five and the FA was introduced in August 1946.  In an arse-over-tit move which seemingly encouraged frequent rather than limited unprotected irresponsible fuckkery, it was only paid for the second child onwards.

After some Tory-tinkering in the 1950s, in 1966 the Labour Government considered the respective merits of an increase in the existing family allowance, or a new means-tested family supplement that was supported by then Chancellor, James Callaghan, but it took the Conservative electoral victory in 1970, when Sir Keith Joseph introduced Family Income Supplement (FIS), designed to replace further increases in family allowance with a means-tested supplement for the poorest families, to see the implementation of a scheme similar to that devised by Callaghan under Labour.

When back in power, Labour had originally intended to merge family allowances and child tax allowances in a new benefit called Child Benefit (CB) in the mid 1970s, but under financial pressure decided to abandon these plans.  Following inevitable pressure from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) amongst others, Labour succumbed and in 1975 the Child Benefit Bill was born, which replaced FA with a benefit for each child, paid to the mothers, phased in from 1977.

In 1984, there was a major social security review, announced by the Conservative government and leading to a Social Security Act in 1986, with a new system being introduced in 1988.  Many supporters of CB believed that it might be abolished (correct), means-tested (a start) or taxed (meh).  CPAG was the catalyst behind the formation in 1985 of ‘Save Child Benefit’, a grouping of something-for-nothing-ists who don’t understand that “free” actually means “paid for by those who work harder than those who’ll benefit”.  This mixed bag of worthier-than-thou slackers and spongers ranged from women’s groups to trades unions and from churches to children’s charities. In the event CB was retained.

Many proposals were put forward to restructure, reduce or radically change child benefit, but in 1990 then Prime Minister and Syd Little doppelgänger John Major declared that child benefit “is and will remain a strong element in our policies for family support”. I never really liked him, and his overbearing fat sidekick was rubbish.  Major restructured child benefit to introduce a higher rate for the first or eldest eligible child which at least reversed the most irresponsible of the Beveridge scheme introduced almost half a century previously.

In July 1998, the Labour government under then pre-war mongering Tony Blair abolished One Parent Benefit (yes another one, yet more money for lone parents originally introduced in 1976). They did this by incorporating One Parent Benefit into the main CB. It was abolished for new claimants and existing claims were frozen. Between April 1997 and April 2003 the rate of CB for the first child increased by a staggering 25% in real terms.

In 2010 neither the Conservative nor the Liberal Democrat General Election manifestos mentioned CB. The country was in the middle of a huge recession. Austerity and cuts were the wankfodder of choice for the feckless and left-whingers everywhere, but somehow CB was to survive, cone what may. In his Budget speech on 22 June 2010, then Chancellor George Osborne said that the Government had had to take a “difficult decision” about CB:

“I have received many proposals about this benefit. Some have suggested that we means-test it; others that we tax it.  All these proposals involve issues of fairness. The benefit is usually claimed by the mother. To tax it would mean that working mothers received less than the non-working partner of higher earners. To means test it, we would have to create a massively complex new system to assess household incomes. I do not propose to do those things. I know that many working people feel that their child benefit is the one thing that they get without asking from the state. So instead, to control costs, we have decided to freeze child benefit for the next three years. This is a tough decision, but I believe that it strikes the right balance between keeping intact this popular universal benefit, while ensuring that everyone across the income scale makes a contribution to helping our country reduce its debts.”

All benefits are popular, particularly with those receiving them. But they are being given to people who have made a particular lifestyle choice. It is funding frivolity, more so in cases where people choose to have many children. In his speech to the Conservative Party conference on 4 October, Osborne did little to put this right when he announced that CB would continue to be paid for all children, but that it would be withdrawn from higher rate taxpayers:

“We still pay over a billion pounds a year in child benefit to higher rate taxpayers. Believe me, I understand that most higher rate taxpayers are not the super-rich. But a system that taxes working people at high rates only to give it back in child benefit is very difficult to justify at a time like this. And it’s very difficult to justify taxing people on low incomes to pay for the child benefit of those earning so much more than them. These days we’ve really got to focus the resources where they are most needed. We’ve got to be tough but fair. That’s why we will withdraw child benefit from households with a higher rate taxpayer.”

I find it impossible to justify taxing hardworking people on any income to pay for the CB (and the various tax credits) of those making a lifestyle choice to have children.  Undoubtedly there will be people saying that it is their right to have children, and I would never question that. It is my right to go on holiday, own a car, a dog and an iPhone. But if I can’t afford them, I don’t scrounge off others. I go without.

There’s a disturbing sense of entitlement that’s crept into society, particularly in the last ten ears, often taking the place of responsibility.  It has become far too easy for people to live their lives – often to the full – on the back of the hard work of others, where working harder and longer to earn more money has been replaced by working out how many hours you can work without jeopardising tax credits.  Stories of people on benefits having children, often more than one and sometimes half a dozen or more are commonplace, as is the expectation not only from the claimants themselves but from a left-leaning media that “free” stuff should be paid for by “those who can afford it”.  In other words, if you think of society as a chicken, what benefit claimants contribute would be represented by the Parson’s Nose, and at the same time they’d happily ravish the bird down to its carcass.

In spite of well-meaning gestures from well-intentioned celebrities, from the philanthropy of anonymous chequebook cottager George Michael, to the socialist students’ Metropolitan Manc pin-up and professional publicist and poverty campaigner Owen Jones, who swallows £40,000 a year from The Guardian for writing Twitter-baiting pieces on the back of the poor plus, according to Media Guido, Jones has also generated around £1.35 million in book sales which, based on conservative royalties of 35% means he will have earned almost half a million pounds), at the end of the day it is hardworking taxpayers who have to pick up the £25 BILLION a year tab for child benefit and tax credits, the cost of the lifestyle choices of others.

No deal.

Demand responsive transport – there’s no demand for it, and it simply won’t work

On 26 January 2016 a report from the Strategic Director – Economy, Transport and Environment for Derbyshire County Council (DCC), Mike Ashworth, entitled “Proposed Changes to Local Bus Support (Highways, Transport and Infrastructure)” (the “January 2016 report”) was published which recommended that a public consultation should be undertaken on a proposal to cease all funding for subsidised conventional bus services, with effect from 1 October 2017.

Currently bus service provision throughout Derbyshire is provided by a network of commercially operated services, supplemented by subsidised conventional bus services where services are not commercially viable, with Community Transport (CT) schemes operating in particularly rural areas where even the provision of supported bus services would be logistically and economy ideally prohibitive. The report acknowledged that DCC “has an important role in supplementing this commercial network by subsidising public transport services for less populated areas of the County”.

In spite of this, DCC are proposing to withdraw all supported bus services and Community Transport schemes. The report went on: “A mitigation measure which could, in part, address this would be the development of funded Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) solutions, as an alternative to conventional fixed route scheduled services. Such services do not provide the frequency or the simplicity of a conventional ‘turn up and go’ service, but they do enable a level of service to be maintained in areas that may otherwise be without a service. It is an approach that has been adopted in other areas of the country where there has been a desire to maintain some level of public transport service. Examples include Lincolnshire’s CallConnect.”

This simply is not true. On 17 April 2016 Andrew Addo-Smith, Transport Officer at Lincolnshire County Council, when asked to confirm that “the model for bus service provision in Lincolnshire is a network of commercial services supplemented by a number of fixed route (registered local) bus services funded by Lincolnshire County Council, and in the most rural areas provided by CallConnect” he replied: “I can confirm that the model of bus service provision is as described.” Mr Addo-Smith supplied a list of 151 bus services supported by Lincolnshire County Council. In other words, in Lincolnshire a DRT scheme runs ALONGSIDE supported bus services, and is NOT “an alternative” which is clearly stated in the January 2016 report. Therefore to cite CallConnect as an example of how Derbyshire can replace all subsidised conventional bus services with a DRT scheme is very definitely NOT “an approach that has been adopted in other areas of the country [including] Lincolnshire”, and to state or even suggest this is clearly misleading to the residents of Derbyshire, especially those who wish to make an informed contribution to the public consultation.

Further, the evening edition of BBC East Midlands Today on 15 April 2016 featured a report on the DCC proposed bus cuts. A transcript has been provided by Kevin Hall, Assistant Editor, BBC East Midlands Today:

Reporter: “But the Councillor in charge of Transport (Councillor Dean Collins) told me they’ve seen how bookable services already work in Lincolnshire.”

Councillor Collins: “Removing just over £4million out of the budget is going to have a big effect on the whole transport network and it is a concern of mine that the rural side of the county will be the worst affected.”

It is of great concern that these misleading comments may have led residents of Derbyshire to be reassured that the proposed DRT scheme would provide the same level of public transport provision enjoyed in Lincolnshire, and they would then either feel that it was not necessary to participate in the consultation, or they may have answered questions in a different way to that had they not been misled. This could, at a later date, bring into question the whole consultation process.

Indeed, the Lincolnshire CallConnect website describes their scheme as follows: “Anyone can use the CallConnect bus service for any reason and as frequently as required. The service is operated by modern, fully accessible minibuses and operates between 7am-7pm Monday to Saturday. In most cases CallConnect will pick up and set down at designated locations in each village or town. Passengers with a disability or those living in more isolated locations (where there is no natural pick up point) can be picked up and returned to their home address, if it is safe and practical to do so. You can use CallConnect to travel to any location within each service operating area, and if you are travelling further afield you can connect with the main Interconnect bus service.”

The service operating areas are clearly defined (examples include Kesteven, Peterborough, Louth from where they connect with Interconnect bus services which operate on main trunk routes. Derbyshire doesn’t have anywhere near as many such services, with just the X17 (Matlock – Chesterfield – Sheffield) and the Transpeak (Derby – Buxton – Manchester) offering anything comparable.

While Lincolnshire’s CallConnect scheme is very mature and details of how it operates are very clear, the January 2016 report outlined a very vague outline of the DRT scheme DCC proposed to provide: “The DRT proposal would be to provide a minimum of 10 modern accessible vehicles, operating between 0700 hours and 1900 hours Monday to Friday, offering an opportunity to travel for those remote from commercial bus services.”

“The service would operate as pre-booked only and would principally offer a service transporting users from designated pick up points to their nearest town, providing access to essential services, or for onward travel using conventional commercial bus services.”

“The ability of an individual to travel at any time within the window of operation would depend on what other bookings have been made. It may be, for example, that they would need to change the time when they intend to travel or they may find that a particular service is fully booked. Individual bookings would, however, be grouped together to travel on a single journey where possible. Concessionary pass holders would continue to be able to use their passes on the DRT services, which would be operated using accessible vehicles.”

“As well as providing an alternative for supported bus services, where commercial services are least likely to be viable, the proposed DRT service would offer a potential alternative for some of the current users of the Dial-a-Bus (DAB) services provided through Community Transport organisations with grant funding from the Council. This is an important consideration given the separate proposal to withdraw grant funding for Community Transport services.”

“Whilst a DRT service would help maintain opportunities to travel for those rural areas remote from commercial bus services, enabling each vehicle to cover a much bigger area than would be the case through a conventional bus service, it should be noted that DRT services are an inherently less efficient means of provision compared with a conventional bus service. This is because average passenger loadings per vehicle trip are considerably lower, due to logistical limitations. Consequently, DRT typically involves significantly higher subsidy costs per passenger journey made than would be the case with a conventional bus service.”

“Although the DRT proposal would focus on those areas likely to be the most affected by the proposed cessation of funding for supported bus services, these do not typically correspond with areas of highest use. It should also be highlighted that DRT would be likely to provide an alternative for only a small proportion of the current users of the supported bus network, and that overall DRT passenger use would probably equate to less than 5% of the 4.0m journeys currently made on supported bus services.”

This, the misleading comparison with Lincolnshire CallConnect scheme, and a simple outline map of Derbyshire shaded in four different colours at the back of the consultation questionnaire was the only information provided by DCC for the public consultation on which participants could base their opinions on.

In fairness to DCC, they simply weren’t able to supply any further information. Because despite somehow being able to publicly state that they could provide adequate public transport provision over an area of 1,014 square miles with “10 modern accessible vehicles” at a cost of £1.3million, they hadn’t a clue how. This is evident in their response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by me on 7 March 2016. In order to ascertain the viability of DCC’s proposed DRT scheme, DCC were asked to supply a number of pieces of the information under the terms of the FOI Act 2000:

“1. The total annual mileage for subsidised regular local bus services.” DCC reply : “This information is not recorded or held by DCC.”

“2. Details of how the proposal to use 10 vehicles for the DRT scheme was calculated.” DCC reply : “At the moment, this is still being considered by officers, therefore, this information is not currently held.”

“3. The anticipated average length of route for the new DRT services.” DCC reply : “This information is not recorded or held by DCC.”

“4. The anticipated frequency of services to be provided by DRT to villages currently served by subsidised bus services.”
DCC reply : “This information is not recorded or held by DCC.”

“5. The anticipated subsidy per passenger under DRT.”
DCC reply : “This information is not recorded or held by DCC.”

The reply concluded laughably: “I hope this now satisfies your request.”

It didn’t. But on BBC East Midlands Today Councillor Collins went onto say: “We’re hopeful that some of these routes will be picked up by the commercial sector.” Sadly, in the January 2016 report Mike Ashworth didn’t share his confidence:

“Whilst it is likely that other commercial alternatives would emerge to replace withdrawn supported services, these are likely to focus on the most popular routes at the most popular times of day, rather than complete like for like replacement of existing services. The Council cannot, however, oblige any operator to provide commercial services and it is therefore not possible, at this stage, to anticipate the extent that commercial alternatives may develop if the proposals to withdraw financial support were implemented.”

“There may be circumstances where it would be appropriate to continue to provide some financial support, for example, for a limited period to ensure continuity of some of the better used urban services where there is a reasonable prospect of them becoming commercially viable with a modest increase in passenger use. However, it is unlikely that funding would be sufficient to do this other than on a limited scale. It is recognised that commercial alternatives are unlikely to be viable in many areas, particularly for deeply rural areas where population is sparse.”

An alternative proposal, submitted to DCC on 7 April details various criteria for determining which subsidised conventional bus services should have funding withdrawn. Two particular groups, Monday to Saturday evenings and Sundays often have services which carry more passengers than subsidised conventional bus services which operate during Monday to Saturday daytime. It could be argued (and almost certainly would be by Stagecoach in Chesterfield) that the loss of Monday to Saturday evening and Sunday services may impact on the commercial Monday to Saturday daytime network.

Indeed, the January 2016 report observes that: “The withdrawal of funding for early morning, evening and Sunday supported bus services, which often complement daytime commercial bus services, would additionally impact on further areas of the County. Loss of the supported bus network would also impact on the ongoing viability of commercial bus services. For example, if a passenger could no longer make their return journey because their supported evening bus service had been withdrawn, they may be unlikely to continue to make their outbound journey on the commercially provided daytime bus service.”

But whenever funding is cut from any service provision, public transport or otherwise, it is important to do the best for the most, and therefore DCC should be targeting this limited funding to provide a core network of the most viable services. It should not be subsidising Monday to Saturday evening and Sunday conventional bus services to increase the profits of large, multinational transport groups providing a commercial network.

Returning to DRT, with DCC admitting that they have no clue how the DRT scheme would operate, and misleading the public by incorrectly stating that “it is an approach that has been adopted in other areas of the country”, maybe they are basing their proposal on previous experience. Perhaps, for DRT has been tried in Derbyshire before, albeit very briefly. In May 2012, as part of a review of their commercial network Stagecoach in Chesterfield withdrew their service 98 (Chesterfield – Clay Cross – Stonebroom – Alfreton), and in order to maintain a connection between Clay Cross, Morton and Stonebroom DCC diverted service 150 (then operated by DW Coaches) away from Hallfieldgate Lane and Higham. At around the same time, K & H Doyle Coaches withdrew their service 99 (Hilcote – Alfreton – Somercotes). In order to provide some level of public transport service to these areas which found themselves with none, DCC introduced two small-scale DRT schemes: the “Higham Connect” and the “Hilcote Connect”. They operated in precisely the same way as DCC envisage for the proposed countywide scheme.

And failed after less than 18 months. For two reasons: firstly, because average passenger loadings per vehicle trip were considerably lower, due to logistical limitations, and therefore secondly because they were expensive, there being a significantly higher subsidy costs per passenger journey made than would be the case with a conventional bus service – exactly the same reservations outlined in the January 2016 report.

In October 2013 the “Higham Connect” and “Hilcote Connect” were replaced by a conventional supported bus service, the 149, which runs from Alfreton to Sutton via Higham, Morton and Hilcote. Based on DCC’s own figures (that a DRT scheme can be expected to provide less than 5% of the passenger journeys achieved by conventional services), the 149 now carries almost 6,000 passengers per year, and therefore DCC’s first foray into DRT carried, on average, less than one passenger per day.

So why are DCC looking to impose a previously failed scheme, based on no information and misleading comparisons, onto the travelling Derbyshire public? What if it fails again?

If all subsidised services are withdrawn, inevitably some operators will cease trading, most likely those that are the smallest and most competitive and have provided many subsidised conventional bus services for many years with low overheads and consequently at a relatively low cost to DCC. And if DRT does fail (as it has in the past) and DCC are forced to return to the tried, trusted and tested model of subsidised conventional bus services return there will, of course, be fewer operators to bid for their operation, meaning that tenders in future will be far less competitive, and DCC will end up paying even more for less.

To spend the entire public transport budget of £1.3million on a DRT scheme that has failed in the past, that DCC have admitted in a FOI response that “information is not recorded or held by DCC” relating to any potential route, frequency or subsidy for DRT, and that both the Strategic Director for Economy, Transport and Environment, Mike Ashworth, and the Cabinet Member for Transport, Dean Collins, have compared misleadingly to Lincolnshire County Council’s CallConnect scheme has to be a mistake, the consequences of which could be the loss of jobs, social isolation and inaccessibility to vital services including hospitals and GP surgeries.

By DCC’s own admission, the proposed DRT scheme would be “less efficient” and with a “significantly higher subsidy cost per passenger” than conventional bus services, and “that DRT would be likely to provide an alternative for only a small proportion of the current users of the supported bus network, and that overall DRT passenger use would probably equate to less than 5% of the 4.0m journeys currently made on supported bus services.”

Surely it would be far better to provide an efficient, core Monday to Saturday turn up and go network which would in itself provide over a million passenger journeys – plus half a million more with passengers who currently use subsidised conventional bus services which would be withdrawn being easily able to use those that would not. The administrative and logistical infrastructure is already in place (it would simply be a matter of terminating the contracts for the subsidised conventional bus services that would be withdrawn under the alternative proposal and retaining under the original terms those for the subsidised conventional bus services that would not).

By contrast, I fear the administrative and logistical nightmare that would be foist upon DCC by the failure of the proposed DRT scheme would be hugely expensive. A heavy burden to bear both for Derbyshire taxpayers, and a Cabinet who was foolish enough – in spite of all the evidence against the proposed DRT scheme and a solid, feasible and fully costed alternative – to press ahead with a proposal which has previously failed, based on no information and misleading comparisons,

SYPTE: Clean up your act

Last year South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), an enormous power-crazed quango formed of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils, announced it needed to save £8million from its annual budget. As part of this, an all too brief consultation was instigated with the aim of cutting the Sheffield bus network by about 10%. As is usually the case with local authority consultations, the original plans were rubber stamped almost without change as reported in the Sheffield Star on 2 September 2015:

“Transport chiefs have agreed proposals to remove, replace, reduce and renumber buses across Sheffield despite last-ditch protests this afternoon.

“Campaigners demonstrated outside the meeting in Barnsley while inside protesters highlighted how the changes would hit people travelling to work or for hospital appointments.

“Martin Mayer, secretary of Sheffield Trade Union Council, asked councillors if they wanted to ‘take the political responsibility for the biggest ever cut on a single day to Sheffield buses’ – which he said amounted to at least a 10 per cent cut.

“Sheffield Bus Partnership claims the proposals will improve the city-wide bus network, reduce duplication and pollution, and make it more efficient.

“The plans were revised after thousands of people raised concerns during a heavily criticised public consultation.

“The cuts and changes will now come into force from the weekend starting October 31 after the plans were agreed.

“Plans were revised after thousands of people took part in consultation, with nine separate petitions against the changes submitted.

“But it was said at the meeting of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority transport committee that the amended plans would still have an impact on passengers, with several people speaking at the meeting and others protesting outside.

“Geraldine O’Connor, speaking as a disabled Sheffield resident, said she only found out about the consultation in July on the day it ended. She told councillors: ‘If your plans go ahead I might not be able to get to a job.’

“She claimed there was potential for a judicial review because disabled people would not be able to access ‘essential services such as the Hallamshire Hospital’ via the number 70.

“Graves Park Councillor Ian Auckland, who sits on the committee, said it was a ‘shrinking’ bus network. He added: ‘All the evidence is that shrinking networks lead to fewer passengers which leads to higher fares and so on – the only people who will benefit from that are the bus operators.’

“The changes were agreed as part of an interlinked package of measures under a devolution deal for the Sheffield region.

“David Young, from the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, said a ‘very good number of changes’ had been made to original plans as a result of consultation and as almost 2,500 people had taken part the ‘message has got out.’

“He said people travelling to hospital via the 70 would be able to change buses without having to walk.  Mr Young added: ‘There’s a lot of discussion about it all being bad news and cuts – there are increased services in some cases. These are all based on the actual patronage data, use it or lose it is very much a cliche but if customers are not using the services it is not sustainable to keep them running.’

“He said that most passengers’ concerns had been addressed by the revised proposals and some services had seen positive changes.

“The meeting also heard that it was estimated there would be ‘30 less job opportunities’ for people as a result of the changes, but no compulsory redundancies.”

And in the Sheffield Star just a week after the cuts…

“Sheffield Bus Partnership claimed the changes – which were revised after a public outcry – would improve the network and be more efficient.

“But Ann Suckley, of Ecclesfield, said it was now a battle to get to work at Meadowhall shopping centre, one of Sheffield’s biggest employers.  She said: ‘I now have to walk further which is fine but the 35 buses have gone to one an hour. The bus misses half the time so if you get the next hourly one you are going to be late for work.  You have to leave two and a half hours before work to make sure you can get there when it is a shopping centre that employs thousands of people.’

“A petition against changes to the 83 and 83a services was presented at Sheffield Council’s full meeting last week.

“Mary Fraser said it meant that elderly and disabled people in Firs Hill had to walk further and change buses to access shops in Burngreave.  She told councillors: ‘The elderly in Firs Hill don’t have any cars or anything like that to take them to these areas – I had to wait 25 minutes for a bus to take me home which I think is a disgrace.’

“Councillor Terry Fox said there had been several inquiries about bus changes and they would be passed on.

“Raymond Pixley, aged 89 and from Dore, said he had a printed timetable for the new 81 service which has replaced the 70 but it did not match the one online.  He said: ‘Even when I called SYPTE they couldn’t tell me which timetable was the right one.  We’ve got hospital appointments to get to and we can’t even find out what bus to get on.’

“Others have complained about long queues and cramped buses on the 52 routes from the city centre to Crookes, and the services up and down Ecclesall Road.

“Some called it a ‘shambles’ and one dad said his daughter now had to walk in the dark to catch the 87 bus to school or get there 45 minutes early by changing buses – which cost more in fares.

“Hairdresser James Pashley said there had been an incident of ‘bus rage’ at a stop outside The Crucible theatre when three buses passed as they were not in service on Thursday night.  He said: ‘When the 20 arrived a man asked if it went to Pitsmoor and the driver didn’t know – the passenger kicked off saying he had been there for 45 minutes.  They had an argument and the driver said he would call the police but then the passenger got out.’

“Transport chiefs say they are monitoring bus complaints to see which are more ‘significant’ – and that requests for changes will be reviewed.

“South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive said it has seen an increased number of complaints since the cuts were introduced last Sunday.

“A spokesman added: ‘This is normal when changes of this scale are made.  The executive and the bus operators are closely monitoring these and are determining which are temporary issues which will get resolved as people become more familiar with their journeys over the next two weeks, and which are more significant.  SYPTE is confident that accurate timetable information is available online, at bus stops and through printed timetables produced by the bus operators.  Passengers should be aware that printed timetables feature condensed travel information, and in some cases may include approximate times. We also encourage all of our passengers to plan their journey in advance, using our journey planning tools available at travelsouthyorkshire.com and on information kiosks in interchanges.  Customer satisfaction is important to us and we are encouraging bus users to give feedback on the network changes if something isn’t right, so the Sheffield Bus Partnership can understand where services are not meeting community needs. Requests for changes will be reviewed by the partnership and put in place where possible.'”

If SYPTE are so desperate to slash costs that they’re prepared to cut bus services to such an extent as to put people’s jobs at risk, make access to healthcare almost impossible and isolate the most vulnerable in the community, you’d think the easier cost savings would have been taken care of first, right?

Wrong.

Last year I filmed a member of staff at Sheffield Interchange spending 35 minutes wiping a grit bin clean with a bucket of soapy water.  A few weeks after there were THREE people cleaning the same windows – one with a squeegee, one with a blade and the other wiping the sills.  And now – as illustrated by the picture heading this blog – FOUR people sweeping up gravel. So I thought I’d ask SYPTE what was going on, starting with an email with the above picture and some others:

“Those pictures were taken at your Interchange today.  The first two show FOUR – repeat FOUR of your staff together doing nothing more than sweeping up gravel, including Anita Smith who I understand for reasons that escape me is a senior member of staff.  They were doing that – ALL FOUR OF THEM – for at least two hours; feel free to verify this via your CCTV records.

“The next picture is the state of the toilets at the same time (picture of toilets that looked like a bomb site).

“A few months ago I filmed the member of staff next to left wiping clean a grit bin near D2 with soapy water, taking 35 minutes.  This nonsense has to stop.  Without giving me a stock, straight bat answer such as ‘I’m sorry you were disappointed but be assured I’ll pass on your comments’ I would like you to answer the following questions:

1. What roles did each of the four members of staff have in sweeping up the gravel?

2. If all four did not have roles then why were they there, and will they be paid for that period?

3. Were any of the four staff more senior than the others and if so why did they not deploy surplus staff to clean the toilets?

4. How often are the toilets cleaned (cleaned does not mean attended, cleaned means swept and mopped, all surfaces wiped)?

A few days later came this reply:

“I have been passed your e-mail relating containing photos of 4 staff together on the runway at Sheffield interchange together with a photo of litter in the toilets. Following an investigation into this it transpires that the 4 staff were actually required to carry out a task they had been set – removing salt and grit from the kerbs and runways.  This required two staff to carry ‘buckets’ of a cleaning substance, one to do the ‘scrubbing and one to ensure their safety.

“Unfortunately due to current staffing levels any tasks such as this take cleaning staff form their regular duties including clearing the toilets.

“Thank you for taking the time to contact SYPTE, this allows us to explain why such actions take place.”

Not good enough.  I emailed back:

“Thank you for taking the trouble to look into this matter and for your prompt reply.  It is important that all SYPTE resources are used with the maximum efficiency and effectiveness, especially just a few months after the biggest cuts to the Sheffield bus network – including those services supported by SYPTE – in living memory.

“Whilst I perhaps expected any response to my email to be defensive, I am very disappointed with your explanation, though at the same time I have a morbid admiration for your defence of PTE staff, and the fantastical imagination necessary to justify allocating four people for at least half a day to sweep up some gravel in such a small area.

“Why would it take two members of staff to carry the cleaning agent? Surely, given the distance from the furthest point in the Interchange to the main building, even if the buckets couldn’t be carried in one journey by one person, then it would take less than 5 minutes for that person to make the same trip? And once the buckets were carried, what were the two people doing then?  Perhaps more puzzling is that in the pictures that I sent to SYPTE, plus many more I have, not only were no buckets being carried, but there is no evidence that any buckets were involved whatsoever. Maybe your investigation should have looked at the evidence before explaining it.

“As for the one person being responsible for the safety of the rest, presumably this was to ensure that if whoever was the scrubber couldn’t see or hear any oncoming buses then the person responsible for safety could alert the scrubber to the impending peril, and rapidly ensure that they and any equipment were relocated to a safe refuge until danger had passed. This, although rather over the top, would be reasonable enough, except in none of the pictures sent to you – plus others – was anyone looking in the direction of oncoming vehicles which can be clearly determined from the photographs.

“Wouldn’t it have been more honest to reply with a grudging admission that perhaps, on reflection, staff were not deployed in the more efficient and effective manner that day, that you’ll review procedures in future, and work with taxpayers rather than being defensive to the point of ridicule when all everybody wants is the maximum resources available for what the SYPTE should be doing, supporting local bus services?

“Wouldn’t it have been better for just two people to be allocated to the grit removal; one carrying the equipment and doing the actual scrubbing, and the other carrying the buckets then once the buckets were in situ snd not requiring to be carried, to be looking out properly for their safety while the scrubbing was taking place?

“Wouldn’t it have been better then for the two superfluous staff to be helping customers, promoting the use of local bus services, ensuring that tourist and locals alike are given the best possible travel experience in order that they will choose Sheffield again?

“Wouldn’t it be great if public bodies were more open, honest and clear, receptive to constructive criticism and be adaptive, ruthlessly efficient, always striving to do things better and maximising ever dwindling resources?”

No reply.  So the next time you’re not happy with your buses in South Yorkshire, you might ask if your council tax is being spent as efficiently as it might.  Local authorities seem to think they’re untouchable and get rather angry – almost intimidating – if you question them.

My previous blog on the forthcoming bus cuts in Derbyshire caused a bit of a kerfuffle at County Hall in Matlock.  I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Derbyshire County Council (DCC) to ascertain what the subsidy per passenger is on each supported bus service in order to see if there was a better way to preserve bus services rather that spend a proposed £1.3million on Demand Responsive Transport, a simple enough request and one sent in a purely personal capacity.  But DCC know who I work for, and rang them to tell me not to make such requests, and were clearly threatening unwelcome consequences for me and my employer if I refused to desist.

But that is my right – and your right – so exercise it.

Derbyshire County Council should choose a different route

This blog first appeared on 27 February 2016 and has been published, in edited form, in the 9 March 2016 edition of Route One magazine, route-one.net:

Derbyshire County Council (DCC) are looking to withdraw all funding for all supported bus services, with the exception of school buses which they are legally obliged to provide under the 1985 Transport Act. They say budget cuts imposed upon them from central Government leaves them with no choice.

The following is taken from their website: “Local residents are being asked their views on proposals to stop paying for local bus services and community transport to help us deal with the biggest budget cuts in our history. By 2020, the funding we get from central government is expected to be more than a third less than in 2010.”

“This means we need to review what we spend on paying for local bus services which don’t carry enough passengers to be run commercially (subsidised buses). We’re also reviewing the amount of money we give to Derbyshire’s six community transport schemes to run Dial-a-Bus (DAB) ‘shopping buses’. We’re already scaling back on our support for DAB services meaning that from this year we will fund one of these trips a week for every community, town or village, to a nearby town centre or supermarket. Some areas currently have several services a week.”

“But we are now putting forward further proposals to help save £4.4 million on transport costs.”

Their proposals would see the withdrawal of all county council funding for subsidised buses from October 2017, and therefore unless they can be run commercially they will stop. They also plan to withdraw all county council funding for DAB services, meaning that unless they can be funded from elsewhere they too will stop. To mitigate these losses, DCC would provide £1.3 million for a new Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) service which would be available to all passengers, both those currently using subsidised buses and those using DAB, and also provide a new Door-to-Door Plus service for people who currently use DAB but would be unable to use the proposed DRT service.

A quick look at how DRT services work: intending passengers have to book their seat either by telephone or online, much like a taxi. They then wait for the bus to turn up at the place and time booked, much like a taxi, and are then taken to the shops before being taken home afterwards, much like…

Councillor Dean Collins, Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Infrastructure, said of the DCC proposals: “We are facing unprecedented cuts and must review all our services, particularly those, like subsidised buses and community transport, that by law, we do not have to provide.

“We know from previous consultations that public and community transport is vital to helping people get out and about, enabling them to maintain their independence and wellbeing, but unfortunately, the fact is, we just don’t have the money to continue funding these services to the level we have previously, so we need to look at running things differently.

“No decisions have yet been made on these latest proposals and I would encourage people to take part in this new consultation so we are well aware of the public’s view of our plans.”

The consultation will run for eight weeks until Sunday 24 April 2016. However, smack bang in the middle of this period something even more significant in terms of impacting upon local services is about to happen. Under something called the Devolution Deal, part of Chancellor George Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” fairytale, all councils in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire – the city councils, borough councils, district councils and county councils – are expected to reach a deal in March, following negotiations with central Government the “North Midlands” devolution deal, also known as D2N2. As part of this it is intended to develop a North Midlands combined authority which would mean that decisions on and funding for services including public transport currently provided by Derbyshire County Council would stay in Derbyshire.

Whilst DCC laud this plan, claiming that as well as providing 55,000 new private sector jobs and building 77,000 extra homes, they would introduce “a better co-ordinated public transport system with ‘Oyster’ style smart ticketing that will help make sure communities are connected to jobs and training. The inevitable conclusion would be quality contracts and effectively re-regulation. All well and good and even nostalgic you might think. But since deregulation of bus services 30 years ago much has changed.

The promised revolution for bus networks and ticketing can work well in large cities such as London, but in shire counties like Derbyshire there are far smaller towns and villages, often served by single operators for the simple reason that there isn’t sufficient demand for a multi-operator high frequency network. Worse still, such schemes often result in cartels in all but name – Sheffield being a prime example – where two large operators (First and Stagecoach) effectively share the spoils between them, squeezing out small, independent operators who are more customer focused and offer a better standard of service with cheaper fares. With lower overheads these firms can continue to provide marginal services to areas which might not be satisfactorily profitable to the shareholders of the bigger companies, but are perfectly acceptable to your family run rural bus company. This would be lost.

DCC believe that their proposals are “the best option for Derbyshire to bring more money into the county, improve the economy and protect services in the future.” The plans also refer to a new “joint fund to spend on improving transport” whilst failing to mention that this refers to road infrastructure; not a single penny piece is promised towards supporting local bus services.

As if this wasn’t enough, Chesterfield Borough Council (CBC) are looking to bail out of the D2N2 scheme and instead join the new combined Sheffield City Region, which DCC object to, warning that if plans by CBC go ahead it will mean the biggest change to local government in Derbyshire for generations, meaning that “some key services in Chesterfield – Derbyshire’s largest town − would no longer be provided by Derbyshire County Council,” including public transport.

By now two things should have become apparent. Firstly, that DCC seem intent, come what may, to remove all funding – and responsibility – from local bus services. They’re simply not interested any more. Despite Councillor Collins’ words decisions have undoubtedly already been made and therefore secondly, the threat to supported services in Chesterfield is moot – they’re not going to exist anyway.

But rather than making party political capital at the expense of local bus services, surely there’s another way? DRT doesn’t work: they are inefficient, huge distances between the few passengers that use them meaning the exorbitant current subsidy of £24 per passenger for community transport would be peanuts. You’d have thought DCC themselves would know this following the last (and only) two DRT services they introduced, the Higham Connect and Hilcote Connect, both catastrophically expensive and unused failures swiftly replaced by a proper bus service, the 149 operated by G & J Holmes of Clay Cross.

Of course there is a better way. The subsidies DCC currently provide to local bus services works out at, on average, £1.19 per passenger. They could quite easily use the £1.3 million they are planning to throw at a crackpot DRT scheme to continue funding more the most used but still unprofitable services. In 2010 DCC held a similar consultation, requiring the buses budget to be cut by roughly a third. The same questionnaire was published along with a list of supported services. The original DCC proposal at the time, to withdraw all supported services where the subsidy worked out at more than £4 per passenger, was nodded through once the pantomime consultation dragged its way to the end. If DCC repeated the exercise but set the bar at the current average subsidy per passenger of £1.19 this would save the £1.3 million they’re planning for DRT.

However if for nothing other than to apportion blame for unnecessary service cuts on central Government they insist on cutting a full £4.4 million there are ways to breach the shortfall. When you first look at how local authorities receive funding aside from their grant from central Government, council tax and business rates come to mind. But councils throughout the county have already raised council tax by the maximum 2% allowed, and gave also opted for the additional 2% precept earmarked for social care. As for business rates, under plans announced by the Chancellor last October, although councils can cut rates they are not allowed to raise them, unless they are devolved cities with an elected mayor, and even then rates can only go up by 2% which must be ring fenced for capital projects. So what could be done?

Firstly, DCC could compel bus operators to charge commercial fares for schoolchildren on supported schools services, rather than the current 70p flat fare; the additional revenue of over £100,000 could be offset against the amount paid for the contracts.

Then take this a stage further and allow community transport schemes to charge 75% of the equivalent commercial taxi rate (the discount being exactly that offered to children under DCC’s b_line scheme), rather than a £3 standard fare. This would better reflect the cost of the journey being undertaken and also relate more closely to what the service actually is: a group hire taxi service. This would generate just over £300,000.

Introduce a 35p on-street departure charge (roughly the going rate for similar schemes) for bus services operating via or terminating in Derbyshire towns. This would share the burden between highly profitable services and other socially necessary ones. DCC provide bus priority measures and bus stops at effectively no charge to bus operators. There is precedent for this in council and PTE-run bus stations, and would be no different for charging for on-street car parking. In Chesterfield alone there are well over 6,000 departures every week and throughout the county this would raise £1.5 million.

Speaking of car parking the introduction of a 15% precept on car parking where fees are already charged, revenues from which would be clawed back from district and borough councils, would raise around £1.2 million.

And with all this, supported services that run across the county boundary would continue, and in turn DCC would still receive contributions from neighbouring local authorities to support these services of over £300,000.

And there’s the £4.4 million DCC want to keep bus services running. All figures are based on or taken from central Government and DCC websites along with Freedom of Information requests.

But having said all of that there is an even simpler way, which would relieve DCC of the logistical and administrative burden that supported bus services brings, and would genuinely ensure that local bus services continue to be provided where there is a clear demand. The £1.3 million earmarked for what would undoubtedly be an ill-fated DRT scheme should be diverted and used to more realistically reimburse operators for journeys made under the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS), a ludicrous idea implemented by Labour in 2007 giving virtually unlimited free bus travel to ten million people and reimbursing bus companies pennies in return. That is to say that currently, whenever a pensioner or disabled person boards a bus in Derbyshire (or anywhere) with a free bus pass, bus companies are not reimbursed the correct fare or even anywhere near it. They are paid about £1. That’s it. Even if the journey is 30 miles long and is totally unnecessary. And that is why not only are rural services more at risk under the politically motivated cuts that DCC seek to implement, but bus companies are not receiving what they should to contribute towards the running of what services do remain.

Despite their public service bleeding heart attitude, both locally and nationally Labour, through their “we know best” attitude of innovation-stifling regulation, continue to demonstrate their frightening lack of knowledge of the bus industry, risking isolating communities through political point scoring. It’s time they chose a different route.

Oh No! It’s a top-ten list

Easter is fast approaching which must mean that by now you’re sick of chocolate eggs and will need to seek out something different to eat whilst slumped in front of the television watching yet another list show, something along the lines of The Top Ten Most Sexist/Racist/Homophobic Sitcoms Ever on Channel Four or Five.

However, being a pioneer of, well, nothing much really I’ve decided to produce my own top ten. It won’t feature a not very funny female/black/gay “comedian” ranting about programmes they’ve never seen, it won’t be riddled with reality show blandees with shock and offence as fake as their tan, it won’t even feature Andrew Collins. In fact it won’t be on television at all. In a move that they will undoubtedly come to regret no broadcaster has chosen to commission this particular top ten, and so it’ll remain here, languishing amongst the indistinct, waiting for someone to click on a wrong link and maybe raise an eyebrow or three.

And so I give you my personal choice for the Top Ten ITV Sitcoms. It is entirely arbitrary, based on nothing but my own opinions, and you are welcome to disagree.

 
10. Whoops Apocalypse

A pre-Young Ones Rik Mayall appeared in this short-lived Andrew Marshall and David Renwick-penned sitcom from 1982, alongside British comedy stalwarts including John Barron, Geoffrey Palmer, John Cleese and Richard Griffiths plus Alexei Sayle in the only thing he was ever any good in.

Doomsday is just days away and Johnny Cyclops, former film star and now useless, perpetually bewildered US President, based not very loosely on Ronald Reagan, is cajoled even bullied from catastrophe to catastrophe by The Deacon (John Barron) and his advisers whose belief in God is as doting as it is futile. Our hero is looking to capture the deadly Quark Bomb, which has been stolen by International French terrorist, Lacrobat (John Cleese) who sends his enemies videos of his many previous evil deeds with bona fides provided by the supposedly rich and powerful throughout the world but who look curiously like Cleese himself.

Also on the hunt for the bomb is Rasim, the exiled Shah of Iran, who finds himself stuck on a cross-channel ferry in the English Channel during a strike with his aide Abdab (“a thousand apologies…”) and seem to spend most of their time in compromising positions in the toilet.

Add to this a left-wing British Prime Minister Kevin Pork (Peter Jones), who thinks he’s Superman and struts aimlessly around Number 10 in his cape while acting as Cyclops’ lapdog, a Russian President who is barely alive but who’s inner circle pull off every trick in the book to convince enemies he is in the rudest of health while looking for any excuse to push “the button”, Ed Bishop from UFO, a topless newsreader and blissfully over the top performances all round and you have probably the best political satire ITV has ever produced.

The plot, set in the midst of the Cold War is certainly of its time, but as life continually threatens to imitate art its relevance comes and goes with every significant political change of power. With this, and plenty of simple laugh out loud farce, Whoops Apocalypse has enough to keep a modern day audience informed and entertained.

 

9. George and Mildred

If you were asked to devise a typically 1970s British sitcom then this is probably the basic premise you’d come up with: middle-class suburbia, hen-pecked husband and his domineering wife who wants to impress her well-to-do neighbours. This is exactly that but for me is the best of its kind, including similar setups from the BBC.

If you count Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads as a spin off then this 1976 effort, a product of Man About The House from three years earlier, is the second best sitcom spin off ever made, although pretty much every other one was terrible.

George Roper (Brian Murphy) is a middle-aged, balding, weedy spendthrift somehow married to Mildred (the beautiful Yootha Joyce) who keeps him firmly planted under her stiletto. Together they’ve just moved to Hampton Wick, and while she desperately tries to climb up the social ladder with Conservative neighbours Jeffrey and Ann Fourmile (Norman Eshley and Sheila Fearn) and into bed with George, it is she who is held back on both counts, largely due to her husband hating everything suburban and conjugal.

Jeffrey is forever surplanting his political views on young son Tristram (Nicholas Bond-Owen), and doesn’t like having George as a neighbour, fearing he will be a bad influence on his child. Meanwhile Mildred and Ann get along just fine while bemoaning their husbands’ sometimes childish feuds.

Not forgetting the “others” in the marriage, George’s goldfish Moby and Mildred’s Yorkshire Terrier Truffles in whom they each confide their despairing thoughts, offering them more affection and attention than each other.

Perhaps typically of the time for ITV sitcoms there are some jokes that make you cringe, but that’s what made Police Squad! so brilliant, and is how Tim Vine pays his bills.

 

8.  Love Thy Neighbour

Often and unfairly derided as a lazy racist sitcom, and the go-to show for clips to illustrate a laboured and unjustified point on Bank Holiday Channel Four list shows, the relationships in this 1972 Vince Powell scribed comedy are basically the same as in George and Mildred; two neighbouring couples, husbands arguing while the wives look on in disdain.

The twist here is that as well as political divides there’s the added element of race, as one of the couples, wait for it, is black.

Eddie (Jack Smethurst) and Joan Booth (Kate Williams) are a working class couple who live next door to Bill (Rudolph Walker) and Barbie Reynolds (Nina Baden-Semper). The two men work together but don’t get on, while their wives are the best of friends. Eddie regularly hurls racial insults at Bill who gives as good as he gets, but Eddie is clearly written to be ignorant and less educated, showing up his bigoted views as ill-informed. Sadly, critics – now and then – didn’t see this and although it perhaps lacks some of the intelligence and socio-political bite of Till Death Us Do Part, Love Thy Neighbour makes a good fist of demonstrating the ignorance of racist attitudes at the time.

 

7. George And The Dragon

Not quite at each other’s throats all of the time, George (Sid James) and Gabrielle Dragon (Peggy Mount) play chauffeur and housekeeper to the wonderfully vague and distant Colonel Maynard (John Le Mesurier). George is forever trying to smuggle a girl back to the house in the hope that she’ll replace Gabrielle who always seems to catch them just before the act.

I can forgive the “Dragon” contrivance as the chemistry between the three is clear to see, doing the sparkling scripts from Vince Powell and Harry Driver full justice. Though George And The Dragon, which started its four-series run in 1966, was written for Sid James (who left ATV for Thames with Powell and Driver), Peggy Mount is equally good if not better, her acid tongue and forceful presence cutting through.

There are great plots across all four series, the quality of writing and performing is consistently high, and it isn’t as simple as the two main protagonists battling with each other. They do often work together, usually to undo whatever mess one or other has gotten themselves into, and John Le Mesurier basically playing himself provides a subtle but important foil.

It is easy to see why the show was and remains so popular, even if often forgotten.

 

6. Vicious

Theatricals old queen Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi basically play themselves, in the guise
of Freddie and Stuart, a caustic and snobby gay couple joined in their contempt for each other, who pace around their sitting room exchanging beautifully crafted and sometimes brutal insults while Violet (Frances de la Tour) and Ash (Iwan Rheon) drop by.

Many critics panned the show, first shown in 2013, as old-fashioned, coarse and a throwback to the 1970s. And therein lie its strengths.

McKellen and Jacobi’s knighthoods come from decades of creating legendary roles for stage and screen, playing everything from supervillains to Shakespeare, which is why it is wonderful to hear McKellen’s classically-trained voice snap out punchlines like “Bitch, please.”

Violet stumbles from one hopeless relationship – usually a failed holiday or online romance which she thinks is destined for marriage – while trying to fulfil her extreme sexual appetite with Ash, a handsome you g man who’s moved next door. Violet’s personal life gives Freddie and Stuart another target for their barbs.

My only downer with Vicious is that Iwan Rheon can’t sustain a Wigan accent without trying to speak while forcing a laugh. Happily though he’s gorgeous, so that’s all right.

 

5. Curry And Chips

Having become disillusioned with the BBC after three year of writing Till Death Us Do Part, Johnny Speight created this for London Weekend in 1969, its first colour programme in any sense of the word.

Kevin O’Grady (a blacked-up Spike Milligan) is of Pakistani-Irish descent and gets a job as cleaner at Lillicrap Limited, a factory that makes cheap novelty toys often found in seaside gift shops. Immediately, there is antipathy towards him (he is given nicknamed “Paki-Paddy”) even from the only other black face around, played by Kenny Lynch. To add to their prejudice, O’Grady is also half-Irish. Standing up for him is Arthur Blenkinsop (Eric Sykes) the foreman, who takes him to stay at Mrs Bartok’s (Fanny Carby) lodging house.

The humour is largely at the expense of the racists themselves, Norman (Norman Rossington) and Young Dick (a pre-Coronation Street Geoffrey Hughes), who while bemoaning the new addition who is keen to work hard, show themselves up to be lazy in both work and ignorance.

The ITA – seemingly as stupid as the people Speight sought to satirise – deemed the series racist and ordered LWT to pull the plug after just one series.

 

4. Oh No It’s Selwyn Froggitt

Set in the fictional Yorkshire town of Scarsdale, this 1976 show was centred on the bungling exploits of Selwyn Froggitt (Bill Maynard) a burly, balding, good-natured council labourer with intellectual pretetsions evidenced by his rolled up copy of the Times Literary Supplement, dug holes – sometimes for himself – while having a child-like enthusiasm to improve his life and that of everyone around him.

Froggitt was on the committee of the Scarsdales Working Mens’ Club where as concert secretary he was blissfully inept at arranging the entertainment. In fact, he was spectacularly incompetent at everything he turned his hand to, being equally inept at his day job (digging holes and filling them in) and home DIY, much to the annoyance of his Mum “I wish you wouldn’t open that cupboard Selwyn, things fall out!” (Megs Jenkins).

He was joined at the club bar by fellow committee members Scouse Jack (Bill Dean), Harry (Harold Goodwin) and excitable, go-to stereotypical Welshman Clive (Richard Davies). Raymond the barman (Ray Mort) enjoyed answering the club telephone with a number of deliciously fanciful addresses.

The show included lashings of slapstick alongside writer Alan Plater’s typical northern humour, and the later “Selwyn”-series aside, was faultless, loveable and very, very funny.

 

3. Take A Letter Mr Jones

Love this. While John Inman was busy starting in the wonderful Are You Being Served? He found time to jump ship – twice – to make two different sitcoms for ITV. This was the second and best of those efforts, made by Southern in 1981, where he plays Graham Jones, a “computer and a wife” to Joan Warner (Rula Lenska), a divorced, single mother, as well as a “busy top female executive” (as she frequently refers to herself) who is struggling to keep a balance between her professional life and her personal one. At home she has a six year old daughter called Lucy (who for some reason always seems on the verge of breaking out into hysterics) and an over-excitable Italian maid Maria (Miriam Margolyes).

Other secretaries in the 8-Star office provide excellent comedy, the dithering Daisy (Christine Ozanne), the young Scouse girl who seems to have slept her way into her job Brenda (Gina Maher) and the tall, frigid Ruth (Joan Blackham) who with Inman shares some of the show’s best banter.

As well as sexual politics there’s a good helping of slapstick, and were it not for Southern’s franchise coming to a bitter end just weeks after the end of the series I’m sure more would have been made.

A charming little sitcom, underrated, under-appreciated, but for me up there with the best.

 

2. Rising Damp

This sitcom from Yorkshire Television first shown in 1974 saw Leonard Rossiter and Richard Beckinsale work together for the second time – both appeared in Johnny Speight’s LWT play “If There Weren’t Any Blacks You’d Have To Invent Them”.

Race was a strong theme in this, too, as Rossiter played Rupert Rigsby, a sexually frustrated, penny pinching, bigoted, ignorant and meddlesome landlord to Alan (Beckinsale), Ruth (France de la Tour) and Philip (Don Warrington).

Though Rossiter’s performance was powerful and always immaculate, he was aided considerably by the ensemble cast. Frances de la Tour is a wonderful mixture of vulnerability and frustrated longing while Richard Beckinsale shone as the immature medical student Alan, and Don Warrington brought a touch of class as “son of a chief ” Philip, who as well as being as recipient of Miss Jones frustrated longings constantly turned Rigsby’s prejudice back on him, always having the last laugh, something that critics who claim Rising Damp was racist often conveniently forget.

De la Tour disappeared for the third series and the standard slipped a little – proving that for a sitcom to be consistently good it needs a strong cast as well as a strong script, and although some of the plots were a touch threadbare later on, it is still fondly remembered – and many see this as ITV’s best. But I believe there’s one sitcom that’s even better…

 

1. Brass

Ah the glorious Brass, which over the course of two series from 1983 (we’ll forget the third which aired six years later on Channel Four which, to be honest, was poor) told the story of the feuding families of the Northern mining village of Utterly.

Self-made man and owner of the village mine, mill and munitions factory, Bradley (Timothy West) is the head of the Hardacre clan, which comprises his three sons, Bentley (deceased), ruthless Austin who is desperate to emulate his tyrant father (Robert Reynolds) and gay Cambridge scholar Morris, who enjoys time with his “chums” and teddy bear Hesketh (James Saxon) – all named after cars, see? – as well as two daughters, Charlotte (passionate about doing good works and, says her father, “innocent to the point of simplicity”) and Isabel, whose bedpost is more notch than wood. Then there’s his wife, Lady Patience (Caroline Blakiston), a wheelchair-user ever since an accident with a tambourine.

On the other side of the village live the Fairchilds. George (Geoffrey Hinsliff) its nominal head, worships the ground his employer Bradley treads him into, while his ample-bosomed wife Agnes (Barbara Ewing), proud Union firebrand who so irons her clothes before washing them and glues peas into pods “how else do you think they get there?” and rails with fury at all life throws at her. They have two sons. One is hardworking Jack (Shaun Scott) who has inherited his mother’s socialist leanings but is periodically diverted from bringing down capitalism by his secret and exhausting life as Isabel’s sex-monkey. (“I love him hopelessly! Passionately! Recklessly! Frequently!”) The other is poetry-writing Matt (Gary Cady), who is determined, once he has made the final payments on the family pencil, to go to Cambridge despite his love for Charlotte which he expressed in frankly rubbish poetry (“Thou are more lovely and more interesting, Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May but that’s quite another thing”) and his good job – “a job wi’ a stool!” – at the mine works.

Every period drama of the time was parodied blissfully by writers John Stevenson and Julian Roach – Hard Times, When The Boat Comes In, Brideshead Revisited – supplemented by plenty of visual gags (from Bradley’s favourite dish of lobster and chips to Lady Patience delicately spooning her gin and tonic hors d’oeuvre into her mouth before falling gracefully face-first into her bowl). Add to all of that lashings of innuendo – “Oh Matt,” sobs Charlotte as he bids her farewell, “I shall always wonder how many poems the lead in your pencil would have been good for!” – and the whole thing is essentially beautifully crafted daftness with actors and writers all seeing just how far out they can go and still bring everything safely back.

It is a joy. It is, quite simply, the best sitcom ITV has ever made.

Derbyshire County Council should choose a different route

Derbyshire County Council (DCC) are looking to withdraw all funding for all supported bus services, with the exception of school buses which they are legally obliged to provide under the 1985 Transport Act. They say budget cuts imposed upon them from central Government leaves them with no choice.

The following is taken from their website:  “Local residents are being asked their views on proposals to stop paying for local bus services and community transport to help us deal with the biggest budget cuts in our history. By 2020, the funding we get from central government is expected to be more than a third less than in 2010.”

“This means we need to review what we spend on paying for local bus services which don’t carry enough passengers to be run commercially (subsidised buses). We’re also reviewing the amount of money we give to Derbyshire’s six community transport schemes to run Dial-a-Bus (DAB) ‘shopping buses’. We’re already scaling back on our support for DAB services meaning that from this year we will fund one of these trips a week for every community, town or village, to a nearby town centre or supermarket. Some areas currently have several services a week.”

“But we are now putting forward further proposals to help save £4.4 million on transport costs.”

Their proposals would see the withdrawal of all county council funding for subsidised buses from October 2017, and therefore unless they can be run commercially they will stop. They also plan to withdraw all county council funding for DAB services, meaning that unless they can be funded from elsewhere they too will stop. To mitigate these losses, DCC would provide £1.3 million for a new Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) service which would be available to all passengers, both those currently using subsidised buses and those using DAB, and also provide a new Door-to-Door Plus service for people who currently use DAB but would be unable to use the proposed DRT service.

A quick look at how DRT services work: intending passengers have to book their seat either by telephone or online, much like a taxi. They then wait for the bus to turn up at the place and time booked, much like a taxi, and are then taken to the shops before being taken home afterwards, much like…

Councillor Dean Collins, Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Infrastructure, said of the DCC proposals: “We are facing unprecedented cuts and must review all our services, particularly those, like subsidised buses and community transport, that by law, we do not have to provide.

“We know from previous consultations that public and community transport is vital to helping people get out and about, enabling them to maintain their independence and wellbeing, but unfortunately, the fact is, we just don’t have the money to continue funding these services to the level we have previously, so we need to look at running things differently.

“No decisions have yet been made on these latest proposals and I would encourage people to take part in this new consultation so we are well aware of the public’s view of our plans.”

The consultation will run for eight weeks until Sunday 24 April 2016. However, smack bang in the middle of this period something even more significant in terms of impacting upon local services is about to happen. Under something called the Devolution Deal, part of Chancellor George Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse” fairytale, all councils in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire – the city councils, borough councils, district councils and county councils – are expected to reach a deal in March, following negotiations with central Government the “North Midlands” devolution deal, also known as D2N2.  As part of this it is intended to develop a North Midlands combined authority which would mean that decisions on and funding for services including public transport currently provided by Derbyshire County Council would stay in Derbyshire.

Whilst DCC laud this plan, claiming that as well as providing 55,000 new private sector jobs and building 77,000 extra homes, they would introduce “a better co-ordinated public transport system with ‘Oyster’ style smart ticketing that will help make sure communities are connected to jobs and training.  The inevitable conclusion would be quality contracts and effectively re-regulation.  All well and good and even nostalgic you might think. But since deregulation of bus services 30 years ago much has changed.

The promised revolution for bus networks and ticketing can work well in large cities such as London, but in shire counties like Derbyshire there are far smaller towns and villages, often served by single operators for the simple reason that there isn’t sufficient demand for a multi-operator high frequency network. Worse still, such schemes often result in cartels in all but name – Sheffield being a prime example – where two large operators (First and Stagecoach) effectively share the spoils between them, squeezing out small, independent operators who are more customer focused and offer a better standard of service with cheaper fares. With lower overheads these firms can continue to provide marginal services to areas which might not be satisfactorily profitable to the shareholders of the bigger companies, but are perfectly acceptable to your family run rural bus company.  This would be lost.

DCC believe that their proposals are “the best option for Derbyshire to bring more money into the county, improve the economy and protect services in the future.”  The plans also refer to a new “joint fund to spend on improving transport” whilst failing to mention that this refers to road infrastructure; not a single penny piece is promised towards supporting local bus services.

As if this wasn’t enough, Chesterfield Borough Council (CBC) are looking to bail out of the D2N2 scheme and instead join the new combined Sheffield City Region, which DCC object to, warning that if plans by CBC go ahead it will mean the biggest change to local government in Derbyshire for generations, meaning that “some key services in Chesterfield – Derbyshire’s largest town − would no longer be provided by Derbyshire County Council,” including public transport.

By now two things should have become apparent. Firstly, that DCC seem intent, come what may, to remove all funding – and responsibility – from local bus services. They’re simply not interested any more. Despite Councillor Collins’ words decisions have undoubtedly already been made and therefore secondly, the threat to supported services in Chesterfield is moot – they’re not going to exist anyway.

But rather than making party political capital at the expense of local bus services, surely there’s another way? DRT doesn’t work: they are inefficient, huge distances between the few passengers that use them meaning the exorbitant current subsidy of £24 per passenger for community transport would be peanuts. You’d have thought DCC themselves would know this following the last (and only) two DRT services they introduced, the Higham Connect and Hilcote Connect, both catastrophically expensive and unused failures swiftly replaced by a proper bus service, the 149 operated by G & J Holmes of Clay Cross.

Of course there is a better way.  The subsidies DCC currently provide to local bus services works out at, on average, £1.19 per passenger. They could quite easily use the £1.3 million they are planning to throw at a crackpot DRT scheme to continue funding more the most used but still unprofitable services. In 2010 DCC held a similar consultation, requiring the buses budget to be cut by roughly a third. The same questionnaire was published along with a list of supported services.  The original DCC proposal at the time, to withdraw all supported services where the subsidy worked out at more than £4 per passenger, was nodded through once the pantomime consultation dragged its way to the end.  If DCC repeated the exercise but set the bar at the current average subsidy per passenger of £1.19 this would save the £1.3 million they’re planning for DRT.

However if for nothing other than to apportion blame for unnecessary service cuts on central Government they insist on cutting a full £4.4 million there are ways to breach the shortfall.  When you first look at how local authorities receive funding aside from their grant from central Government, council tax and business rates come to mind. But councils throughout the county have already raised council tax by the maximum 2% allowed, and gave also opted for the additional 2% precept earmarked for social care. As for business rates, under plans announced by the Chancellor last October, although councils can cut rates they are not allowed to raise them, unless they are devolved cities with an elected mayor, and even then rates can only go up by 2% which must be ring fenced for capital projects. So what could be done?

Firstly, DCC could compel bus operators to charge commercial fares for schoolchildren on supported schools services, rather than the current 70p flat fare; the additional revenue of over £100,000 could be offset against the amount paid for the contracts.

Then take this a stage further and allow community transport schemes to charge 75% of the equivalent commercial taxi rate (the discount being exactly that offered to children under DCC’s b_line scheme), rather than a £3 standard fare.  This would better reflect the cost of the journey being undertaken and also relate more closely to what the service actually is: a group hire taxi service.  This would generate just over £300,000.

Introduce a 35p on-street departure charge (roughly the going rate for similar schemes) for bus services operating via or terminating in Derbyshire towns. This would share the burden between highly profitable services and other socially necessary ones. DCC provide bus priority measures and bus stops at effectively no charge to bus operators. There is precedent for this in council and PTE-run bus stations, and would be no different for charging for on-street car parking.  In Chesterfield alone there are well over 6,000 departures every week and throughout the county this would raise £1.5 million.

Speaking of car parking the introduction of a 15% precept on car parking where fees are already charged, revenues from which would be clawed back from district and borough councils, would raise around £1.2 million.

And with all this, supported services that run across the county boundary would continue, and in turn DCC would still receive contributions from neighbouring local authorities to support these services of over £300,000.

And there’s the £4.4 million DCC want to keep bus services running. All figures are based on or taken from central Government and DCC websites along with Freedom of Information requests.

But having said all of that there is an even simpler way, which would relieve DCC of the logistical and administrative burden that supported bus services brings, and would genuinely ensure that local bus services continue to be provided where there is a clear demand.  The £1.3 million earmarked for what would undoubtedly be an ill-fated DRT scheme should be diverted and used to more realistically reimburse operators for journeys made under the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS), a ludicrous idea implemented by Labour in 2007 giving virtually unlimited free bus travel to ten million people and reimbursing bus companies pennies in return. That is to say that currently, whenever a pensioner or disabled person boards a bus in Derbyshire (or anywhere) with a free bus pass, bus companies are not reimbursed the correct fare or even anywhere near it. They are paid about £1. That’s it. Even if the journey is 30 miles long and is totally unnecessary. And that is why not only are rural services more at risk under the politically motivated cuts that DCC seek to implement, but bus companies are not receiving what they should to contribute towards the running of what services do remain.

Despite their public service bleeding heart attitude, both locally and nationally Labour, through their “we know best” attitude of innovation-stifling regulation, continue to demonstrate their frightening lack of knowledge of the bus industry, risking isolating communities through political point scoring. It’s time they chose a different route.