Cut council’s catering to save our bus service

Friday 10 January 2014 Updated: 10/01 16:18

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Buy photos » Dave Jackson, Michael Malone, Diana Thompson, Ann Hunt, George, eight and William, six, Shearer join Coun Joe Baker to protest against the potential loss of the number 61 bus. Picture by Marcus Mingins 0214004MMR

THOUSANDS of pounds spent on food and drink for county councillors, officers and guests should be cut in order to save an under threat Redditch bus service.

Coun Joe Baker wants Worcestershire County Council to axe spending on food for councillors on meeting days, as part of a range of savings which would allow the number 61 bus to continue to be subsidised.

The council provides lunch for its 57 councillors at six full council meetings a year costing taxpayers £2,034. Another £795.19 is spent on tea and coffee.

It has also been revealed in 2012/13, some £77,242 was spent on food and drink entertaining council officers and guests and £55,096 between April and November last year.

The Arrow Valley East representative wants to see that budget trimmed as well as an end to the driver and county car for the council’s chairman and senior officers to use on official business, which has cost almost £34,000 over the last two years.

He also believes the £20,000 cost of maintaining the Lord Lieutenant for Worcestershire, The Queen’s representative in the county, should go.

The number 61 service, which includes Winyates and Matchborough, is one of more than 90 under threat as the county council looks to cut the £3million a year it spends propping up unprofitable bus services.

But residents argue losing the service would cause severe hardship as many elderly people rely on it to get into the town centre and it also serves Sainsbury’s and the Abbey Stadium. The service is also one of the cheapest to subsidise at just 59 pence per person.

A petition has been started with 350 people signing up already.

Coun Baker said cutting the service would lead to social isolation and hit people travelling to work.

“I understand why they have to save the money but when the county council make cutbacks they always look at vulnerable services,” he said.

“There is already a cost of living crisis and this just adds to that crisis.

“Worcestershire county council’s leading group is out of touch with the real world.”

Diana Thompson, who runs the Winyates Green Senior Citizens Club with Ann Hunt, said: “So many people depend on it. It’s one bus an hour, how can they take that off us?”

Winyates Green resident Dave Jackson added: “We had this 12 months ago, they saw fit to maintain it then and I don’t understand the problem, things haven’t really changed except the population has got older and more elderly people are using it that haven’t got vehicles to get into town.”

A spokeswoman for the county council said the cost of the county car included the lease of the vehicle, insurance, road tax and petrol as well as the driver. She pointed out mileage or taxi fares would still have to be paid if it was not available.

Coun Smith, responsible for highways on the county council, said: “The potential savings are from various areas across the council and I am unable to give a commitment regarding those savings to support one particular route.”

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