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Controversial cuts to bus subsidies in Norfolk on brink of being abandoned

PUBLISHED: 11:37 19 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:37 19 January 2018

File photo of buses in North Walsham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

File photo of buses in North Walsham. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Controversial cuts to bus subsidies and gritting in Norfolk are on the brink of being abandoned - with money from a council tax increase saving the services.

Norfolk County Council has been consulting over a potential £500,000 cut to the £2.7m subsidy it gives bus operators and community transport providers, as it wrestles with ways to plug a £125m spending gap.

They proved hugely controversial, with warnings from bus operators and campaign groups for older people warning it could lead to isolation.

And at a meeting of the county council’s environment, transport and development committee today, councillors recommended that those cuts be scrapped.

A proposed £200,000 cut to gritting, which would have seen fewer roads gritted, is also recommended to be scrapped.

The council is considering a 5.99pc council tax increase, after the government eased restrictions on such hikes.

While 3pc of that would be specifically for adult social care, putting up the county’s share of the council tax by 1.09pc than the 4.9pc which budget planning was initially based on would generate just under £4m in 2018/19.

And Conservative Martin Wilby, who chairs the environment, transport and development committee recommended that some of the money raised through the council tax hike be used to stave off the bus subsidy and gritting cuts.

He said: “We have had the consultation and we have had more responses than ever before, particularly around the bus subsidies and gritting, “This shows that we do listen and this shows that consultation works.”

Thomas Smith, Conservative councillor for Gaywood South, welcomes the move.

He said: “With the number of buses which were at risk in just my division, I dread to think how much worse it would have been for people.”

Terry Jermy, Labour councillor for Thetford West, said: “I am really pleased that common sense has prevailed.”

But he said he was disappointed other committees had not considered staving off other cuts, such as to children’s centres.

The final say on whether the proposals should be pulled out of the budget - due to be set next month - will rest with the council’s policy and resources committee.

But it would now be a huge surprise if the cuts went forward.

Before today’s meeting, a 6,000 signature petition against the bus subsidy cuts, organised by North Norfolk Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, was handed to the committee.

Hundreds also signed a petition organised by Age Space, which offers online support and information to older people.

Age UK Norfolk had said cutting subsidies would be “completely at odds” with the county council’s own In Good Company campaign, which aims to combat loneliness.

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