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Church leaders back call to Prime Minister to halt bus service cuts

17 February 2023

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CHURCH leaders have joined pensioners and rural campaigners in calling on the Prime Minister to halt potentially severe cuts in bus services.

In an open letter to Rishi Sunak, they write that reductions in government funding could force operators to cut up to one in six routes in the spring, when the current support package ended.

“Public transport is vital to so many,” one of the signatories, the Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Revd Sophie Jelley, said. “It is clear that those who face the greatest adversity already are likely to be among those most dependent on buses for their access to wider services, amenities, and resources. In an increasingly mobile society, we risk isolating the poorest and most disadvantaged even further, if our bus service is not sufficient to support them.”

The letter says that the cuts would “devastate” communities. “Workers will lose their jobs. Our children and young people will be cut off from educational and training opportunities. All of us will be further isolated from essential public services, including our overstretched GP surgeries, dental practices, and hospitals.”

Another signatory, the Bishop of Selby, Dr John Thomson, said in a statement: “Buses with affordable fares help to reduce emissions, congestion and isolation. That’s why buses are a social good and part of the way to a better future. Don’t cut buses. Cut fares!”

On Tuesday, Dr Thomson said that he had no specific examples of cuts to bus services, because they are an almost inevitable consequence of the withdrawal of the government funding if it happens; as yet, no announcements had been made by the bus companies concerning which services they might reduce or cut.

The Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt Revd James Grier, said that he was “very keen” to sign the letter, explaining: “I represent some of the most beautiful but isolated rural areas in Devon, and bus services are a lifeline in those communities. So many people rely on bus transport to stay connected, whether it is school pupils, young families, people commuting to work, or older people. Many of these areas are also dependent on buses to make them accessible for tourism.

“The Church of England in Devon is committed to reaching net carbon zero by 2030, advocating for a reliable, affordable bus network in the south-west is part of our mission to care for our environment and people, too.”

Plymouth City Council has already cut five of its 14 cross-town routes to help to plug a predicted £36-million funding gap this year.

Other signatories include the President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Graham Thompson; the interim CEO of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Tom Fyans; and the secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, Jan Shortt.

Matthew Topham, a campaigner at Better Buses for South Yorkshire, who helped draft the letter, said: “Buses are the glue that holds together our local economies, our public services, and our communities. Ending bus privatisation is estimated to save over £600 million a year — more than enough to stop these cuts. It’s time buses worked for people, not profit.”

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