‘What York’s battle of the buses says about our city’

Passengers often get stuck in jams
22 Jun 2016 @ 9.05 pm
| Opinion, Politics

The recent peer review feedback to City of York Council gave a fairly scathing appraisal of the strategic approach from senior members, and suggested that those in leadership positions were not consistently or widely visible across the organisation.

Perhaps most saliently, the report highlighted a serious mismatch between how budgets were allocated and the stated objectives of the Council.

To that end, it is sometimes it’s the smallest issues that shine the brightest lights.

When the last council budget was announced in February, its impact was sugar-coated with phrases like rationalising subsidies, build capacity and focusing resources on frontline services.

Who could disagree? And who could really say they were surprised when the Tory/Lib Dem executive later conducted a Westminster-style political U-turn by agreeing to a £13,000 subsidy for a school bus service running children on the edges of the city to Manor CE Academy, after the school agreed to pay £13,000 from its own funds?

This is, of course, a listening council. And everyone loves a listening council, even when they don’t listen to over 5,800 people (the number who petitioned for the removal of homeless bars on seats in Rougier Street).

A man sleeps under the bars installed on a bench at a Rougier Street bus stop. Photograph: Jack Gevertz / YorkMix
A man sleeps under the Rougier Street bus stop bars. Photograph: Jack Gevertz / YorkMix

But the people affected by this latest U-turn are not what council leader David Carr refers to as the ‘unfortunates’ who choose a ‘lifestyle’ of homelessness.

They are not from deprived areas of York where every penny matters and where 1 in 4 children live in poverty. And they are not the very poorest residents who the city insists pay £4.25 a week in council tax despite the obvious hardship it causes.

Not poor, not homeless

These are people from an area where 1 in 1,000 children live in poverty and where parents won’t put up with their children having to get a service bus into the centre of York, cross the road, and jump on another bus to get to school.

So, the Tories and Lib Dems, recognising the alleged road safety dangers and financial hardship faced by these children and their parents, decided the council needed to carry on providing subsidised school transport.

And, remember, this is the same council asking parents of children with special educational needs to move across to personalised transport budgets.

Due for cuts… York bus services. Photograph: Richard McDougall
Could children take a service bus instead of a subsidised school bus? Photograph: Richard McDougall

The children affected by the council u-turn go to a faith-based academy. Does this mean, then, that we’re charging the poorest £4.25 a week in council tax to subsidise the city’s most affluent children?

Of course, Manor has tipped up some dough (presumably they had some left over because academies, as we are constantly being told, are so efficient) so local taxpayers don’t have to foot all the bill.

As the headteacher so eloquently put it, through a ‘positive compromise’, Manor provides choice to York’s children. It has nothing whatsoever to do with influencing the cohort it admits. Of course not.

And besides which, we should pay council tax to subsidise schools that left local authority control five years ago. Isn’t that the point of academies?

The way forward

Whilst protesters are aghast at the closure of weekend and evening bus services (or, as the council calls it, the ‘rationalising of subsidies’) the Conservative councillor for Haxby suggested that, in any case, taxis are the way forward.

They apparently serve a great purpose by helping to address loneliness. Cracking. Job sorted. Perhaps he’d also like to propose a mass city-wide taxi-share so we no longer have congestion and air-quality issues.

Such a shame he didn’t share his bright idea earlier. It could have saved the council and Manor Academy a lot of wasted time and money. And helped the children make more friends into the bargain I assume.

Of course it’s not the children or their parents we should blame – we all do our best for our kids. I’m pretty sure no one would have objected if the subsidy for the bus service was means-tested. And, to be fair, the Copmanthorpe parents offered to pay more. But why should that when their local authority is awash with cash.

So, as breakfast clubs close across the city, as York Foodbank has to provide vouchers to help hungry families and as other bus services are being slashed, subsidising a service between an affluent ward and a faith-based academy seems a strange choice for the council to spend our money on.

Even if it is only £13,000. And even if the council is still listening. To some people.