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Urgent answers needed after Newcastle's Transport Levy budget bombshell - what are the implications for city bus and Metro users, demand Liberal Democrats?

November 19, 2021 8:45 PM

NexusLiberal Democrats Opposition councillors are seeking urgent answers from Newcastle City Council's leadership on the robustness of the council's recently announced budget plans for 2022-23 in light of the significant financial crisis affecting the North East Joint Transport Committee and public transport provision.

The city council's budget consultation information, which proposes a 2.949% council tax increase including the social care precept, identifies a freeze in Newcastle's contribution to the Tyne & Wear Transport Levy, which the five T&W councils pay into to fund Nexus public transport operations.

However, this week's JTC meeting agreed emergency plans to address a £20m budget deficit arising from falling fare income during the pandemic through significant cuts of £7m to subsidised bus services, together with an anticipated requirement on councils for a £4.5m or 6% increase in Transport Levy contributions, which would almost certainly be passed on to council taxpayers, as well as unspecified "efficiency savings and income generation", which are likely to include fare increases.

The Liberal Democrats Opposition is concerned that the city council's draft budget has failed to take account of the JTC's demand for a big increase in council contributions to the Transport Levy. It s unclear whether the councils are in a position to agree to raise the Levy through a considerable council tax hike, but if the Levy deal is not agreed, there is a serious risk of Metro service cuts as well as bus service cuts.

Cllr Colin Ferguson, Liberal Democrats deputy leader of the Opposition and resources spokesperson, said:

"We are seeking urgent assurances about whether the council's budget proposals take account of the perilous position of transport finances, and whether the council intends to stick to its published plan to leave the Transport Levy unchanged from last year's projections in light of the severe consequences for Metro and bus services.

"We consider an urgent statement is required from the council's political leadership to make it clear they are serious about tackling the fragility of our regional public transport network, given the leader has recently talked of aspirations for £1 bus fares which look far from deliverable in the current context."

Cllr Greg Stone, Liberal Democrats' Opposition spokesperson on transport said:

"Labour politicians have spent recent days attacking the Government for breaking its transport promises, even though the North East was poorly served by HS2. But in light of the JTC's proposal to slash public transport subsidies for bus routes and seek a further rise in council tax through a steep Transport Levy hike, they need to answer urgent questions on how they plan to address the crisis in Tyne and Wear's public transport system which they are accountable for.

Given the implications of the JTC's budget plans for public transport service cuts and fare rises, the public need to know whether the £800m Bus Service Improvement Plan bid is realistic, and whether an unprecedented public transport crisis is the right time to be making controversial changes to bus services in Newcastle city centre. Understandable public anger at the Government's broken transport pledges will be aimed at Labour council leaders if their own transport plans are cancelled and they are unable to avoid slashing public transport, raising fares and further increases to council tax bills."