In an embarrassing about-face the council has been forced to abandon its plans to award 288 new bus contracts for school and public services.
Instead, existing contracts are going to be extended until the end of March next year.
A tendering process that began earlier this year was intended to simplify the hugely complicated system of contracts, and to save money. But once the tenders were received and analysed they were found to be “more than we could afford,” in the words of the chairman of the council’s development committee Alistair Cooper.
“The reality is,” Mr Cooper said, “that when the tenders came back in, with the way the contracts had been packaged, it was going to be very difficult to do as much as we would like to do, and there was going to be potential for serious diminution of the service.”
Back in March, transport officials assured councillors that a series of criteria had been devised that would allow cuts to be made to the £3.6 million service in the least damaging way possible, should a scenario such as this emerge. But after two meetings held in private this week it seems that no satisfactory conclusion could be found.
Alistair Cooper said that, despite this setback, bus operators were continuing to hold talks with the SIC, and he was confident that new contracts could be awarded before the end of the financial year.
However, “I think we have to be honest and say that there will be a diminution of the service,” he added. “What we’re trying to do is [to continue to provide] as much of the stuff which allows folk to have some sort of a life out in the periphery, bearing in mind that the bus users are the ones that doesna hae a car, is on low incomes, and that we need to protect as best we can.”
Mr Cooper explained that “For the current year there is sufficient money to extend the existing contracts,” but that this could not be allowed to continue. Cuts would have to be made in the next financial year.
“We’re looking to achieve what we can,” he said, “and we may have to come back and say ‘well, this is what we can do with the money we have; this is what’s going to have to fall off, possibly’. And we have to have a dialogue, and we have to understand the consequences of some of that stuff falling off, if you know what I mean. And that’s when the difficult decisions have to be made.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Cooper added: “Having an effective and efficient bus service is vital for our economy. The council and ZetTrans are working with bus operators to establish a network which meets our needs and which we can afford.”