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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Welsh Government's cuts to bus services will damage economy

Thursday's Western Mail highlights one of the consequences of a decision by the Welsh Labour Government to cut the grant to bus operators by a quarter.

They say that sixteen non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have signed a letter to First Minister Carwyn Jones and seven other ministers warning them that slashing Welsh bus funding by 26% will hamper economic recovery, marginalise many people and worsen unemployment and public health.

They say the planned funding cut will “deal a severe blow to bus services and bus users”, whilst harming the ability of Wales’ beleaguered high streets to compete with e-commerce and out-of-town retail and leisure complexes:

 Transport Minister Carl Sargeant unveiled the 26% cut in January 2012 but later postponed it while the system of financing bus services was reviewed. Some of the cut was implemented in October and the remainder is scheduled for April – taking bus grants from £33m last year to just £25m in 2013-14.

The NGOs claim this will trigger further service cuts and fare rises, on top of those implemented last spring in response to Mr Sargeant’s original announcement.

They predict this will be especially damaging to local retailers. Research has found that bus passengers spend £27.2bn a year during shopping and leisure trips in Britain.

Of that, £21.5bn is spent in town or city centres rather than out-of-town complexes which provide free car parking but often poor accessibility by public transport.

Given that this cut directly contradicts their own policy objectives it does seem bizarre that Welsh Labour have passed it on in this way. Clearly, the money available to the Government in Cardiff Bay has been reduced in real terms due to austerity measures but surely intelligent budgetting would ensure that ministers will do everything they can to protect their own priorities. After all, isn't that what devolution is all about?
Can the Welsh economy be damaged much more? It being at or near the bottom of a bunch of economic league tables and warmly embracing a GVA rating that would put a cold cup of tea to shame.
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