Sheffield councillors condemn city 'cliff edge' bus cuts and Labour launch campaign

Sheffield City Council has condemned a cut to one-third of city bus services, starting at the end of this month, and is looking to action by the South Yorkshire mayor to introduce more democratic control.
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Councillors meeting yesterday (Wednesday, July 20) condemned the cuts and decided that the Sheffield Better Buses Partnership, which brought together the council and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive with bus operators, was no longer fit for purpose.

The Labour Party announced the launch of its Stop Tory Bus Cuts campaign with an online petition, which can be found at StopToryBusCuts.com.

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Accusations flew across the council chamber as to how well the partnership had ever worked and whether the time to step away was now or when new South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard introduces bus franchising, which could take up to 18 months.

Bus franchising would give the mayor and local authorities more control over services, fares, routes and timetables, as has happened with Mayor Andy Burnham in Manchester.

LibDem Coun Andrew Sangar, calling on the council to scrap the bus partnership immediately, spoke about the effect of bus deregulation outside London: “London has had increased bus patronage, increased routes and managed fares.

“Outside the cities, bus services are generally poor. What we have in the metro areas has been managed decline and we’ve had lots of different words for it and we’ve used the term partnership.

Bus cuts – service ‘coming to a cliff edge’

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“It’s been a partnership where councils have had to provide improvements in terms of bus lanes, improvements in terms of making sure buses can get to places, and bus companies have cut the routes and increased the fares.

“We’re coming to a cliff edge because we’ve got service cuts at the end of July where routes are going to be cut but in October, unless something changes, one-fifth of Sheffield buses will be removed and one-third of bus routes will be removed.”

He added: “Mayor Coppard has reached out to us more in the past eight weeks than Mayor Jarvis did in the past four years, and that’s the problem we’ve had in South Yorkshire.”

New Walkley Labour councillor Tom Hunt proposed an amendment arguing that an enhanced partnership that only started in March is “currently the best course of action available to influence bus operators” ahead of franchising.

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Coun Fran Belbin (Labour, Firth Park) backed him and announced the launch of the Labour campaign.

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She criticised a Green amendment that “does seem to be determined to pit car owners against everyone else, even while we’re acknowledging that our public transport isn’t currently fit for purpose”.

Green leader Coun Douglas Johnson (City ward) said that, as well as helping action on climate change and clean air zones, encouraging people out of their cars is also an issue of equality.

“By authorities choosing to subsidise private car ownership, putting money into roads, offering free parking across South Yorkshire, that is not an equal distribution.

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“It goes to those people who already have cars, it takes away services from those who have no choice of being able to drive their car into town – children, young people, the disabled and those who can’t afford private cars.”

Coun Mazher Iqbal (Labour, Darnall) proposed a motion pointing out the lack of Government funding for city bus services and arguing that the bus partnership is no longer fit for purpose.

Bus cuts – ‘the Government decided to give us a great fat zero’

He defended Mayor Jarvis, saying he led a South Yorkshire bus review chaired by Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts: “The current mayor has picked that up and has started the franchise process which is going to take 12 to 18 months.

“Mayor Jarvis also put in a bid for the Bus Services Improvement Fund and the Government decided to give us a great fat zero and Louise Haigh, our shadow transport secretary, also said ‘this Government has shafted us’.”

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LibDem leader Shaffaq Mohammed (Ecclesall) asked Labour: “On that road to Damascus, when did you see the light that the Sheffield Bus Partnership wasn’t working – because it clearly wasn’t in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021.

“Because it’s only now, a few months back, that they discovered that partnership wasn’t working.

“In terms of Clive Betts – seriously, what’s Clive Betts done that’s improved bus services in South East, let alone the rest of the city, because in days, at the end of this month, the services that run through Clive Betts’ own constituency are being cut.”

He added: “Dan Jarvis was absent from his job and as a result the bus passengers of our region are paying the price because he’s allowed the bus services to get away with it.”