During the coronavirus crisis, buses are more vital than ever. Although many people are staying at home, getting key workers out is crucial. However, the Shepwayvox Team has learnt that key workers are having difficulty getting to work as Stagecoach buses in our area have been cut radically during the pandemic.
The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, announced at the beginning of April, bus companies in England will receive a £400m bailout to ensure that services needed by frontline workers such as NHS staff can keep running. Mr Shapps has also written letters to local authorities to ‘urge them to continue payments for tendered bus services and concessionary fares reimbursement at pre-crisis levels’. Among the bus companies bailed out is Stagecoach who run services in the Folkestone & Hythe District
The bail out for them comes at a time when local authorities such as Kent County Council face increased pressure on their vital services, and a decade of austerity has left them and other local authorities stripped bare.
In the last ten years Kent County Council have made annual savings (read cuts) in the region of £80m to £90m per annum each year since 2010, while paying Stagecoach more than £183.5 million. That’s despite the fact they’ve reduced services and routes and increased prices across the area of East Kent which it serves.
Stagecoach retain ‘a strong balance sheet’, and have “£290m of available cash and undrawn committed bank facilities to underpin the continuity of the business.” And just one day after the bus bailout was announced, they confirmed it would pass on dividends for the year to May 2020.
As we said; Stagecoach have between 2010/11 and 2019/20 received more than £167 million from Kent Council, according to its invoices over £250 data.
And they’ve also received £16 million in subsidies from KCC in the last ten years for routes “judged socially necessary but not commercially viable.” Taking the total payments paid by KCC to a whopping £183.5 million
Some might argue we had to bail out Stagecoach and the other bus companies, that’s because the way our system currently runs means we have no control over the vast majority of services. If bus companies decide to stop running services, we would be at risk of having no transport for our key workers, but shareholders wouldn’t suffer as they’ll still receive their dividend.
That said key workers have informed the Shepwayvox Team buses have been cut, even though they were informed they would stay running during the coronavirus crisis them. They’ve since discovered that the reality of that is that the buses they need to get to work (they work nights in a care setting) stop running at just after 18:30 and 20:00 – two hours before their night-shift begins – they haven’t even thought about shift changeover times for care workers! So they’ve had to pay for taxi’s costing them in excess of £300 a week.
Other key workers have suffered similar plight across the country.
While key workers struggle to get to work to earn a wage for their families, because they’ve stopped the later buses on certain routes in East Kent. The two executive directors of Stagecoach are: Chief Executive Martin Griffiths (pictured below left) and Financial Director Ross Patterson (pictured right) have earned between them a staggering £9.1 million in four years.
During this crisis, these two gentlemen will not suffer, nor will the company they run, as the payments from KCC and other local authorities, plus the bailout will continue. However, key workers in our district who need the buses have not been taken for a ride as promised, but tax payers have in our honest opinion.
The reality is that this crisis has shown us that buses are a public service that keep the country running but only at a time that suits Stagecoach in our district, not the key workers it professes it is helping.
We believe Stagecoach has taken the taxpayer for a ride but we’ll leave you to make up your own mind.
The Shepwayvox Team
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