Kent transport

‘Reckless’ bus cuts in Kent postponed after Tory rebellion

Plans to cut dozens of bus services in Kent have been postponed after a Tory rebellion.

Earlier this year, Kent County Council agreed to scrap 38 subsidized trips across the county in October.

Bus Arriva at Millennium Way Sheerness. Photo: John Nurden (58719112)

Their ‘reckless’ decision was summoned by opposition councilors to be debated in public at County Hall, Maidstone, this morning.

A small group stood outside the county council headquarters with placards protesting against proposed cuts that would save the local authority £2.2million to tackle significant budget pressures.

Following a two-hour review meeting over the bus cuts, which were due to come into effect from late August to October, councilors detailed the “avalanche of emails” they had received from affected residents.

The chamber heard that parents will have the choice between keeping their jobs or dropping their children off at school, while adults will wonder if they can afford to take a taxi to the hospital.

Conservative councilor Harry Raynor has called for the cuts to be deferred and debated at a full council meeting later next month – this was backed by the meeting’s chairman, Tory Andy Booth.

Jane Sinclair, right, and her daughter were outside County Hall in Maidstone to protest against bus cuts
Jane Sinclair, right, and her daughter were outside County Hall in Maidstone to protest against bus cuts

A total of nine councillors, including a handful of Tories, voted to postpone, while two – Cllr Dylan Jeffrey and Cllr Rory Love OBE – voted against.

The plans were heavily criticized by residents and councilors who opposed the cuts and demanded they be reviewed by KCC’s review committee.

He was summoned by Green Party adviser Rich Lehmann, who called him “reckless”, and Mike Sole of the Liberal Democrats.

They believe the impact these grant cuts will have on communities in Kent – particularly affected rural communities and the elderly, disabled and low-income members of these communities – is “too high a cost” to economies. that these measures will bring.

The official challenge comes months after transport chiefs defended the large-scale cuts, which they said were necessary to achieve a balanced budget and ensure the local authority’s financial security.

The council has invested £6.6 million to support 127 bus services, which are deemed socially important to the local community but not financially profitable.

Councilors were worried about how much money it would cost the council to provide free transport for those who would be away due to bus cuts – wondering if it would be more than the £2.2m saved .

Cllr Sole said the cuts would lead to more cars on the roads as parents take their children to school and the council ‘takes a step back towards its net zero target’.

“They will say if I move my child to another school? Shouldn’t I go to the hospital?

Cllr David Brazier hit back at people opposed to the cuts and said affected residents and councilors had a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of the issue – saying people were confusing the cuts to 38 subsidized bus services with those to provider business services .

Chairman Andy Booth supported the decision to postpone and said: “We are going through extremely difficult times here. Life is getting harder and the pound is going down.

“I feel for the parents of youngsters trying to get them into school. It’s an absolute nightmare.”

Cllr Trudy Dean said residents would have tough choices to make if the cuts were made. She said: “They will say if I move my child to another school? Don’t I have to go to the hospital?

“Much of the Malling area would need to change schools and would struggle to get to Maidstone Hospital.”

Cllr Rory Love, who was against the postponement, called on councilors to come up with a solution that would generate around £3m to keep the buses running.

“Talking about bus services no longer makes them viable for the operator,” he added.

Councilors voted to postpone bus cuts until it is debated at a full Council meeting in September
Councilors voted to postpone bus cuts until it is debated at a full Council meeting in September

“People using another service that will be cut as a result will be impacted. We need money to be there, we can’t magically make money.”

Cllr Barry Lewis joked at the meeting their people would have three choices if the cuts were approved – lose their jobs, pay for taxis or allow 12-year-olds to drive.

But he described the rebellion as akin to a last-minute equaliser, and hopes the momentum will lead to the cuts being scrapped.

Jane Sinclaire, from Westerham, was outside County Hall with her daughter to protest against the cuts which would see her son affected.

“The alternative is impractical and dangerous,” she said.

“I don’t think Kent County Council would have made these cuts if they had known what they know now.”

Among others angry at the move is Emma Butler, who says the cuts will leave her son, Rory, with no way to get to school.

Kent County Council has agreed to scrap 38 subsidized bus services in Kent
Kent County Council has agreed to scrap 38 subsidized bus services in Kent

The 12-year-old Borden Grammar pupil is currently traveling to Sittingbourne on the 332 bus from Chalkwell, one of the routes due to be cut in October.

Emma said: ‘I was shocked to hear it was being scrapped as it is the only school bus in the area.

‘Travel Line has confirmed that after the bus cuts there will be no more routes available between our home and Rory’s school or the nearest school to our address, Westlands School.

“KCC explained to me that by sending Rory to high school and not to the establishment closest to my home, they could not help me.

“However, if I decided to move Rory to Westlands, my nearest school, the council said they would step in and pay for a taxi each day to get him to and from school.

Cllr Barry Lewis said the result was like a "last minute equalizer" outside County Hall in Maidstone
Cllr Barry Lewis said the result was like a ‘last minute equaliser’ outside County Hall in Maidstone

“I don’t want to move Rory. He just moved in after his freshman year. He has friends, sports clubs and is doing well.

“I don’t want to take him out of there just because the council wants to save money and cancel his school bus.

“I have been a teacher for almost 20 years, but these bus cuts force me to choose between my job and my child. In the end, I will choose my son.

The matter will now go back to the council’s cabinet where they can choose to continue with the plans or cancel them.

If overturned, they will not go to the full council, but if they choose to proceed, they will be heard at the meeting later this year.

Rich Lehmann (Green)
Rich Lehmann (Green)

After the meeting, Cllr Rich Lehmann said, “I am both delighted and surprised with the outcome of today’s meeting.

The fact that so many Conservative advisers on the committee are so strongly supportive of our cause underscores the fact that people power works. If enough residents contact their elected officials on issues like this to show their opposition, they have the power to change their minds.

“I hope next month’s plenary meeting will give these cuts the scrutiny they deserve in light of the extremely difficult times households in Kent are currently facing.

“These buses are being used by some of our county’s most vulnerable residents, and to push the cuts forward when there are still so many unanswered questions about how much the council will actually save and what the carbon impact will be. would be unnecessarily reckless.”