'Flawed' decision on city bus forum faces challenge


Jim Green

THE decision not to set up a bus user forum after controversial service cuts is being challenged.

Earlier this month Cheshire West and Chester Council’s (CWaC) executive approved a series of measures designed to save £250,000 a year earlier.

Changes include scrapping free concessionary travel on the PlusBus and Women’s Safe Transport services, but community groups argue the cuts target the most vulnerable.

Executive members approved six measures on September 5 but rejected the creation of a new public transport forum despite council officers saying it would enable constructive dialogue with service users and providers.

Cllr Lynn Riley, executive member for community and environment, said she believed the authority already did enough to consult bus users.

But Labour councillors have called in that decision and it will be reviewed by the authority’s corporate scrutiny committee.

The call-in notice states: “The executive member dismissed the idea of a stakeholder engagement forum as a block on innovation, as a failed method of consultation, as a backward step, yet the report differed significantly from this view.”

Council officers had said engaging with bus users was an “inherent” part of introducing the service changes and an “essential factor” in reducing the risk of legal challenge.

They also said the forum would help reduce the risk of communities being adversely impacted, services being reduced or withdrawn and minimise negative public opinion.

Labour councillors said the decision to cut subsidies and increase charges would do little to stimulate increased bus use.

The call-in notice continues: “The executive member appears to have made a unilateral decision to reject stakeholder engagement forums, against the advice in the report and based on prejudice from the past.

“A new forum properly constituted, managed and controlled can provide the council with a broad spectrum of balanced knowledge and advice.

“This opportunity has been rejected without proper debate or forethought. Reviewing this decision will allow an informed debate to take place on the benefits or otherwise of a stakeholder engagement forum.”

The corporate scrutiny committee will review the decision on Wednesday.

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