Bedford Borough Council has claimed that a bus operator ceased the 21 bus route without “following the standard process”.
But Grant Palmer refuted this, saying it “does not have a discretion” in how the statutory process is followed.
During last week’s Bedford Borough Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (October 9) councillor Marc Frost (Conservative, Wixams & Wilstead) said Grant Palmer de-registered the 21 bus route from the traffic commissioner before informing the council.
He was responding to councillor Dean Crofts (Lib Dem, Kingsbrook) who thought it was “interesting” that the Executive hadn’t consulted with Public Health when cutting the bus service, as set out in a draft strategy.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) contacted Grant Palmer over councillor Frost’s claim.
Dave Shelley, director at Grant Palmer, said: “We first contacted the borough to commence discussions about the 21 service on 12 July.
“On 20 July we commenced the formal four-week consultation process with them. This had a proposed end date of 24 September.
“During the 10-week period following the start of the formal consultation, there was every opportunity to consider the plan.
On 4 September we chased in the absence of a response and revised the proposed end date to 1 October.
“It was completely wrong to say that the service was withdrawn without prior consultation as before a formal notice can proceed to the commissioner, a formal sign-off is required from the council, or in the absence of a response a four-week opportunity for a response must expire,” he said.
The LDRS sent Grant Palmer’s response to Bedford Borough Council.
Its spokesperson said: “There was a series of correspondence between Bedford Borough Council and Grant Palmer, regarding the viability of the 21 Service.
“The operator initially emailed the council on 12 July asking for a meeting to discuss potentially de-registering the service. The council agreed to this meeting in an email sent the following day.
“Over the course of multiple emails, a meeting date was agreed for 12 September. Bedford Borough Council asked that the de-registration be held off until after the meeting.
“Grant Palmer then advised the council on 6 September that the service had been de-registered – six days before the meeting.
“This is of course at their discretion as the operator.
“However, this action was contrary to ongoing discussions and had not followed the standard process involving both ourselves and the traffic commissioner for the purposes of de-registering bus services,” they said.
Mr Shelley said the council’s latest version of events seems “somewhat different” from Cllr Frost’s claims that the route was deregistered before informing the council.
“They now accept in their reply to you that we first raised this with them on 12 July,” he said.
“They omit to note that on 20 July we, in writing, issued the statutory paperwork for commencement of the deregistration process.
“This is the formal notification to them, so be clear we advised them in writing of the intention to withdraw on that date,” he said.
“No written response was received from the council to the statutory consultation, so after four weeks this was passed to the traffic commissioner.
“The application was accepted by the traffic commissioner, taking note that no response was received from the council.
“At that point, we wrote to the council again to advise them that the start date had been put back one week.
“A meeting was subsequently set up with the council for 12 September after we further queried the lack of response,” he said.
“We were asked not to deregister the service, but we explained that the process had progressed since formal notification was issued on 20 July, and the deregistration had already been accepted by the traffic commissioner.
“The council advised us that they wished to cancel the meeting for 12 September.
“Even at this late stage we advised the council that we were happy to engage, work with them to find a solution and, in the week before withdrawal, our managing director told their officer he could consider looking at a delay.
“There was no response on this point.
“It is not possible to obtain approval from the traffic commissioner if the correct procedure has not been followed by the operator, so I totally refute this allegation.
“Operators do not have a discretion in how this process is followed as it is statutory,” he said.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter