Money saving will cost us in the end

WHATEVER the ins and outs of the decision to switch the contract for park and ride from Ipswich Buses to First Eastern Counties, it has created serious problems for the borough-owned operator.

Paul Geater

WHATEVER the ins and outs of the decision to switch the contract for park and ride from Ipswich Buses to First Eastern Counties, it has created serious problems for the borough-owned operator.

There are many people connected with the bus company and the borough council who are convinced that Ipswich Buses has been caught in the crossfire between the borough and county councils.

They feel that while the fact that Ipswich Buses is owned by the borough was not the clincher on the deal, it meant that the county council wasn't exactly bereft when it awarded the contract to a rival company either.

And in a world where everything comes down to pounds and pennies, I can't help feeling that the county council could still find itself out of pocket.

The exact details of the bids by Ipswich Buses and First Group remain secret because of concerns of commercial confidentiality.

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However, my sources tell me that in a contract which involves the county council paying £2 million, the First Group bid was less than £50,000 under that of Ipswich Buses.

So the county has saved itself that amount of money - yippee.

But I've also been told that without the Park and Ride contract, overheads at Ipswich Buses for its “normal” fleet will rise - and that will mean that many of its weekend and evening services will be uneconomic.

That could mean it is forced to abandon them - and the county council would then have a duty to step in and subsidise services on these routes.

No one seems prepared to put a figure on what subsidy might be required - but one expert I've spoken to has suggested to me that the county could have to spend £150,000 subsidising uneconomic services in Ipswich.

So, the county saves £50,000 and spends a further £150,000 - leaving a net loss of £100,000. Is that such a great deal for council taxpayers?

By creating a system where every bit of provision has to be looked at in isolation from every other service, successive governments have done much to undermine public transport.

Park and ride should never be seen as separate from the rest of the bus services in the county - it has to be seen as part of the overall picture.

What we now have in Ipswich is a county council decision about one aspect of bus provision which will leave those bus passengers who do not have a car, and therefore access to the subsidised service, facing the prospect of losing their services and facing big fare increases.

LAST weekend's tanker driver strike left many of us considering whether our journeys were really necessary - the sight of fuel stations with the “pumps empty” signs up is very sobering.

However, we all ought to stop for a minute and feel for those at the heart of the dispute - the tanker drivers and their union Unite.

They had rejected a seven per cent deal which would take their wages up to £36,000 (according to the union) or £41,000 (according to their bosses).

I can't help feeling that there are millions of people who would be happy to get a seven per cent rise to that lower figure.

And while I know driving a tanker carries with it a great deal of responsibility, it's hardly up there in the risk stakes with being shot at in Afghanistan.

I was particularly impressed with Unite leader Len McCluskey, who was interviewed at the weekend.

When he was asked why his members were holding out for a large increase when nurses and teachers don't get anywhere near what the tanker drivers earn, his response was: “We think the government should pay the nurses and teachers £36,000 a year.”

From that I assume that his members would be delighted to pay thousands of extra pounds in tax to pay for these massive salary increases.

Or is he planning a union recruitment drive among the pixies and elves in Cloud Cuckoo Land who spend all their time harvesting the tenners that grow on trees?

I'M not really sorry to see the bulldozers move in to the old Civic Centre building - no one would ever describe it as attractive.

It was not a very comfortable building to visit, let alone work in!

But its architecture was very much of its time - it screamed “late 60s” at you, and there are very few buildings left from that era.

They've either been tarted up and are unrecognisable - like Greyfriars - or have bitten the dust like the old Eastern Electricity building in Russell Road, which made way for Endeavour House.

A little of the architecture from that era is worth keeping, so I'm relieved that the old Fison House survives - but I'm sure Waitrose, or whatever else replaces Civic Centre, will be a great improvement on that concrete monstrosity.