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Long-term future of bus services ‘depends on next week’s Budget’ – more services could face cuts

By David Spereall, local democracy reporter

The long-term futures of nearly 30 bus services across West Yorkshire will likely hinge on the outcome of next week’s Budget, councillors have been told.

Treasury chiefs might unveil a bus funding package which would offer long-term stability for the industry after months of uncertainty, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA’s) director of transport said on Friday.

Operator First West Yorkshire announced a raft of service cuts and timetable changes earlier this week, mostly affecting buses around West Leeds.

If no funding emerges in next week’s budget, a further 28 or so routes are set to be either pulled or altered in some form by the company.

Those services were due to have been cut next month when emergency funding from the Department of Transport (DfT) was due to expire, but a last-minute extension has given them a reprieve until the end of June.

Speaking at a WYCA transport committee, transport director Dave Pearson said: “Bus services are still operating under emergency funding arrangements.

“Government have extended their bus funding until the end of June and so the cliff edge with some services we were expecting has been put back three months.

“The reality of the situation is that it’s just been extended a little.”

Mr Pearson added: “We will watch, with interest, the Budget next week. There’s some indication there may be some work ongoing around longer term funding for buses, but we’ll need to see.

“If there’s nothing in the Budget arrangements, we can reliably assume that the current funding will end in June and we’ll have to work through the consequences of that.”

Councillors across West Yorkshire, as well as regional mayor Tracy Brabin, have been heavily critical of the government for the piecemeal nature of emergency funding for buses over the last year, which they say has caused uncertainty for passengers and operators.

But the DfT, which began propping up the sector at the start of the pandemic when passenger numbers crashed, insists its handed out more than £2bn across the UK to keep communities connected.

Meanwhile, a group of Labour councillors in west Leeds have written to First to complain over the loss of services in the Bramley, Stanningley, Farsley and Rodley areas.

Councillors Kevin Ritchie, Caroline Gruen and Peter Carlill called on the operator to reinstate the number 9, which is one of the routes set to be withdrawn next month. Changes to the 508 and 14 were also raised.

They wrote: “The number 9 bus serves many young people and commuters who travel to Elliott Hudson College and the White Rose Centre every morning.

“Removing the number 9 service leaves them with little choice when it comes to public transport, which will have a direct impact on their income and, if more cars are used, our environment.”

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