The managing director of bus operator Nottingham City Transport says council plans to cut two park and rides and turn off real-time information signs would be a “grave” step backwards for services.
Nottingham City Council is looking to end some of the services it provides as part of efforts to fill a £53m hole in its budget for the year beginning April 2024.
The Labour-run authority has already been working to close a £23m gap this year, which resulted in it declaring effective bankruptcy in November.
On top of plans to slash 554 jobs and close some youth centres, the council has also proposed to withdraw funding for Medilink services, reduce Linkbus services to minimum levels, close the Queens Drive and Racecourse Park and Ride sites and turn off real-time information at bus stops.
A consultation to get feedback on the proposals ended on January 16.
NCT’s managing director David Astill said the changes would be a step backwards.
“Yes they are in difficulties, but we are independent of that,” he said.
“It only affects us if they do things like turn off the real-time system, which is one of the things on their list of savings, or if they shut park and ride sites.
“Queens Drive has all been well-used both for people coming into the city and for people going, crucially, to the Queen’s Medical Centre. Queens Drive acted as an overflow car park for QMC.
“Obviously it will mean Queens Drive would cease to be used as a park and ride, which would be disappointing and a retrograde step, but they have got a financial crisis and we have got to respect they have got to make some difficult decisions.
“We know from all our customer research the real-time gives our customers enhanced confidence because it gives you confidence the bus is coming.
“You can go to a central London bus stop and there is no real-time, you won’t have that experience in Nottingham. That is a fantastic boast and it would be a grave retrograde step if that was turned off.”
While bus operator NCT was established as an arms-length Nottingham City Council company in 1986 and is therefore independent of the issues the authority is facing, it is still reeling from the impacts of the Covid pandemic and war in Ukraine.
In the year ending 2023 the company reported a near £1m loss in its management accounts, which excludes Government support.
This figure has improved but remains negative.
Its losses now sit between £500,000 and £1m, Mr Astill says.
“We agreed a recovery plan that we would take a hit last year, break even this year and move to profit next year in the management accounts,” he said.
“When we agreed that plan there was no guarantee of Government funding beyond probably a three month stretch.
“The Government has done the industry proud. They have protected the industry from the worst possible outcome there would have been without financial support and the NCT board recognises that.”
As of March 2022, Companies House documents show Government revenue grants totalled £12.711m.
For the year ending March 2023 grants totalled £5.896m.
Rob Hicklin, NCT’s finance director, added: “Our default position is cautious optimism and we remain that way. We are not out of the woods just yet but you get the feeling you can see a bit of light through the trees.”
Crucially, the pair said, passenger levels have returned to around 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
“The facts the peaks have returned is an assurance,” Mr Astill said.
“Sat here two years ago we would have given our right arm to have the patronage we have got right now, because we did not know what the new normal was going to be.
“It might have been 80 per cent, it might be 85 per cent, but we are at 90 per cent and we are taking the view that is not the end result, there are still some to come back.
“We are up six per cent on last year.”
The majority of Government funding has been guaranteed until March 2025, while the £2 capped fare scheme will be funded until December this year.
They said a crystal ball would be required to see what the Government’s plans are after that.
“That will take us the other side of the election,” Mr Astill continued. “I do not know what the new Government’s priorities will be.
“The shadow transport minister indicated the current level of funding won’t change. It won’t go up but perhaps it won’t go down either.”