A leaked letter from the WLGA has revealed that top Labour councillors believe the Welsh Government’s plans to cut bus funding will cut off communities.
Plaid Cymru MS Llyr Gruffydd said the letter showed his party’s serious concerns about the future of transport throughout Wales was shared by councillors in all parts of Wales and urged the Labour Government to rethink the funding cuts.
In a letter to the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, dated 13th March, Labour Councillors Andrew Morgan and Rob Stewart, the WLGA’s Leader and Deputy Leader, outlined several issues in the Welsh Government’s “Top-down” transport policy, which was causing a “perfect storm for communities”, and an approach to bringing about change in transport policy that is “all stick and no carrot”.
The letter to the First Minister outlined several areas of concern, including:
• The Roads Review, where there was very limited contact with council Leaders after the review had reached its conclusions, and the “narrow and desk-based nature of much of the Roads Review work”.
• ‘Cart before horse’ planning, referring to the lack of investment in public transport alternatives needed to encourage people out of cars and on to public transport.
• The “sheer volume of transport-related issues” which is leaving councils struggling to manage at present, with more proposals by the Welsh Government placing councils’ highways and transport staff under great pressure. It also raised concern that there would be implications from policies such as the default 20mph on school transport and winter service plans, with longer shifts needing to be covered.
• Rural concerns, where there is no public transport services in some areas – having a knock on effect on economic development, and where active travel is “simply not a realistic option”.
• Social inequality and exclusion for many residents where “public transport is a lifeline as they either cannot afford, or are unable, to drive.”
• Concerns about the Deputy First Minister’s conduct which has led councillors to be “concerned about the nature of the debate and tone of the meetings”.
Plaid Cymru held a debate in the Senedd on the future of the Bus Emergency Scheme earlier this week which called on the Welsh Government to extend the scheme for at least 18 months to provide longer-term financial security to bus operators across Wales. The motion also called on the government to bring forward long-term secure funding options to maintain bus services, as opposed to emergency funding schemes.
Both calls were rejected by the Labour Government and transport minister Lee Waters.
The leaked letter revels that Cllrs Andrew Morgan and Rob Stewart both agree with Plaid Cymru’s call and called on the Welsh Government to secure funding for buses in the long term, writing:
Agreeing with Plaid Cymru’s calls on the Welsh Government to secure funding for buses in the long term, Cllrs Andrew Morgan and Rob Stewart said:
“The fact [Bus Funding] is being extended was welcomed but there was a call for ways to be found to make the funding permanent so that services can be protected. Whilst passenger numbers have not recovered post-Covid, they never will if services start to be cut across Wales. […] “Loss of bus services is potentially devastating for these groups [older people, young people, people with disabilities and low income households], impacting on their well-being by restricting access to educational, economic, health and leisure services and to family and social contacts.”
Responding to the critical letter, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Local Government, Llyr Gruffydd MS, said:
“It’s clear that Plaid Cymru’s serious concerns about the future of transport throughout Wales are shared by councillors in all parts of Wales. In particular, there is a great deal of concern about the future of bus services which, as they stand, will leave communities cut off. This is why Plaid Cymru put forward a debate in the Senedd this week on the future of the Bus Emergency Scheme.”
“The Welsh Government’s current plans on buses are set to leave communities without public transport options. This could be disastrous for many – particularly older people, vulnerable groups, poorer communities, and those who live in rural areas.
“It was also worrying to read in the WLGA’s letter to the First Minister that there are issues surrounding the conduct of the Deputy Minister for Transport, particularly the ‘nature of the debate and tone of the meetings’.
“At the centre of any plan to ensure a greener future for all of Wales must be a public transport system that is improved and equally available to all. Any plan to ensure this must take everyone in Wales along with it.”