Worries over rural services if Bus Back Better cash bid fails

Fares on First Eastern Counties buses in Suffolk are set to change - with some rising for walk-on pa

Bus Back Better aims to improve services and encourage more people to leave their cars at home - Credit: Paul Geater

Fears have been voiced over the future of some rural bus services amid worries that Suffolk will not get all the grant aid it has sought as part of the Bus Back Better scheme.

The county council is set to find out next month the result of its bid for £77million for ambitious bus improvement plans.

These include ambitions for more rural services, easier ticketing options and daily price caps, bus decarbonisation measures, and tap on and off travel.

However, a letter sent by the Department for Transport to local authority transport directors said the bidding pot would be £1.4billion and not £3bn as had been expected.

The DfT denied that funding had been cut, but in the letter admitted that “prioritisation is inevitable, given the scale of the ambition across the country greatly exceeds this amount”.

Suffolk County Council said it was waiting to find out if its bid has been successful, and had not been required to prioritise measures as that would be the work of a dedicated board to be established if the bid is successful.

A council spokesperson said: “We are told a funding announcement is due at some point in February and that this will be indicative, with a confirmed amount at some point after that, probably to tie in with updates on the Enhanced Partnership, which will bring together the council, local bus operators and other stakeholders to provide a high quality accessible and integrated public transport network.”

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A DfT spokesperson said some of the £3bn is being invested nationally and not directly into local authorities.

Opposition Green councillors in Suffolk said if reports of less funding were true it would leave some of the county’s villages, which already struggle for services, cut-off.

Group spokesman for transport Keith Welham said: “The Suffolk Bus Service Improvement Plan bid was for funding to bring back essential services to our rural areas and improve services on key routes.

“A lot of time was spent by officers, members and stakeholders to put together a realistic bid.

“If reports that the government is cutting this vital funding are true, their efforts were wasted; many of our rural areas will continue to have no service at all and we’re unlikely to get the electric buses we were expecting to be part of the package.”