District bus cuts put pressure on

Falkirk Council is unlikely to have the funds to ease the pain when bus services are cut
Falkirk Council is unlikely to have the funds to ease the pain when bus services are cut

Town Hall bosses will probably be powerless to ease the pain of bus service cuts when they are introduced in the new year.

Cash strapped Falkirk Council already pays operators First nearly £1.3 million a year to subsidise key routes across the district - with the department paying for this being asked to cut £1.8 million from its spending over the next three years.

First Bluebird announced changes to its local services and timetable last week.

From January 12, loss making routes including the 14 ‘Circular’ will be scrapped.

The Aberdeen-based company, one of Britain’s largest bus operators providing around a fifth of bus services outside London, has targeted 14 services for the axe.

It claims it is unable to continue in 2015 because it has been operating at a loss for a “number of years” and that is now beginning to impact on its investment plans for the area.

Managing director Paul McGowan said: “I can appreciate some of our passengers will be disappointed. However the services that we’re changing have been operating at a loss, in some cases a considerable loss, for many years.

“I can assure our customers that this is not a decision that we’ve taken lightly, we remain absolutely committed to longer term investment in services in the Falkirk area.

“But in order to continue as a viable commercial operator and protect jobs we have little option but to take action on services that are unsustainable.”

Council leader Councillor Craig Martin admitted the news from First is not good and the timing could not be worse.

He said: “This has been announced just when our officers have brought forward proposals to make substantial savings, including £1.8 million from our spending on transport planning which includes bus subsidies over the next three years and will add to the pressure to make the right budget decisions.

“The company reducing its investment in the district raises concerns ahead of the budget to take us into 2015 which will include how much we have available to support bus services particularly in our rural areas.”

Councillor Martin said that since First had its Scottish Government subsidy cut in 2012 the council has used £800,000 from its reserves to protect these vital services.