Council to decide on plans to save cash on supported transport services

More than half of the savings are already being made by running existing services more efficiently. All transport services the council runs and funds are now managed by a single unit - which is reducing costs by £3.7m.

To achieve the remaining savings the council also proposes to reduce the subsidies that the council pays to commercial bus companies to operate low use routes. The council is continuing to talk to these companies to see if they can take on any of the services commercially.

Oxfordshire’s taxpayers currently pay commercial bus operators £3.7m per year to wholly or partly subsidise more than 100 bus routes.

The cabinet will be presented with an option to save £2.3m from this budget and a further option to save the full £3.7m - meaning that all of the 100 plus services that currently receive a subsidy would no longer receive funding. Commercial bus companies could then choose to continue to operate these services if they wish to. Each of these services have been subsidised for a specific purpose, in some cases to run a service in full and for others to simply fund a detour to a commercially funded service, or a stop at a less well used bus stop.

The 100 plus subsidised bus services in Oxfordshire make up around nine per cent of the bus network. This means that more than nine out of ten services run without any public subsidy and would not be affected by any of the cabinet proposals.

More than 2,600 responses were received to a consultation that was launched in early summer on this subject.

Cllr David Nimmo Smith, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “This is another example of the council being faced with difficult choices. We are now in our sixth year of cuts since 2010. We’ve stopped using more than 100 properties, reduced our staffing by 30 per cent and our senior management by 40 per cent since 2010. We’re sharing services with other councils.

“We have a legal and moral duty to support the most vulnerable in society – that means adults who are in our care because they need help washing, dressing, eating and other personal care, and children at risk of abuse and neglect.

“Almost 50 per cent of our budget goes on care services for adults and children. We need to make savings in other areas to fund those vital services. Transport savings is one such area under consideration.

“We have already made big savings by running and funding supported transport services more efficiently and have plans to do much more. To make the remaining savings we have consulted on options to either reduce or end the subsidies we pay to bus companies while discussing with them the prospects for them continuing to run services. More than 90 per cent of bus services in Oxfordshire would be unaffected by these proposals.

“We’re in the process of saving £290m from 2010 to 2018 and may have to save as much as £50m on top of this – which is why we have an option to cease all of our bus subsidies rather than just £2.3m.”

Supported Transport budget

The council has reviewed all its supported transport services since first outlining the need for savings from the £30m it spends in this area in autumn 2013.

The £3.7m of savings that will come from efficiencies include smarter transport commissioning, and better use of specialist resources.

Encouraging community transport

As part of the savings proposals the council would cease to be able to fund Dial-a-Ride as a council provided service.

In recognition of the important role that transport plays in Oxfordshire, particularly in rural areas, the county council is actively encouraging voluntary services to be developed. There are already 62 community transport schemes in Oxfordshire; the council wants to see more.

The council wishes to work with community transport groups across the county to try to develop schemes which can meet similar needs to those which Dial-a-Ride currently serve and has had success in some parts of Oxfordshire.

In Oxford, Aspire, an award-winning charity and social enterprise was earlier this year given a start-up grant to deliver Dial-Ride in the city. Oxfordshire County Council supported the organisation to get the service up and running to ensure a smooth and seamless transition for customers, with a view to making it a sustainable long-term service in the future.

There are 238 regularly scheduled users of Dial-a-Ride in Oxfordshire. A total of 176 of those live within 400 metres of a bus stop served by a fully commercial service. There are 439 registered users of Dial-a-Ride overall – not all regularly use the service.

Councillor Nimmo-Smith added: “We’re interested in how volunteers can help deliver a service similar to that currently provided by Dial-a-Ride. We already have volunteers involved in community transport schemes and there’s an army of volunteers in our libraries. Big Society is already in action in Oxfordshire.”

What happens next?

Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet will meet to discuss the proposal on November 10. The outcome of the meeting will then be fed in to the overall budget process – with final decisions on the council’s overall budget being taken in early 2016.

If cabinet approves option 2 approximately two-thirds of the subsidies due to be withdrawn would end in April 2016, and the remaining third would end in June 2016.

If cabinet approves option 1 services would cease at different times throughout the Summer and Autumn 2016 depending on contract termination times.