Shropshire Council bus boss Claire Wild talks and walks away in Ludlow

At ten past eight this morning, Shropshire Council’s portfolio holder for transport, Claire Wild, spoke to BBC Radio Shropshire’s Clare Ashford. After this councillors and future candidates met Wild in the Church Inn.

BBC Radio Shropshire Transcript

Clare A: Good morning, it’s ten minutes past eight, Breakfast Show, now Ludlow’s bus services will change this morning, the existing operator has decided to pull out after seventeen years, now the half hourly 721 and 722 services were run by R & B Travel, and until last year they had a Shropshire Council subsidy to do so, that was taken away in September. So, despite the buses being busy, it wass mostly pensioners using their free bus passes and that means the company was losing money, so its decided to stop. To make sure local people don’t lose out, Shropshire Council has arranged for Minsterley Motors to run part of the existing service in the short term, from today, until they can put routes out to tender. Claire Wild is Cabinet Member in charge of Transport, with us this morning: Good Morning.

Claire W: Good Morning

Clare A.: So why was the subsidy removed in the first place last September, Claire?

Claire W: Basically, R &B Travel registered the service as a commercial service….

Clare A: Which means what?

Claire W: Which means that the service was totally under their control, so they decided to operate without a subsidy

Clare A: ….but you took the subsidy away…..

Claire W: No we didn’t take the subsidy away at all, we put the service out to tender, as we do every five years, and R&B Travel decided to register it as a commercial service with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner

Clare A: But then why would they stop then?

Claire W: Why?

Clare A: Why would they stop the service?

Claire W: Now?

Clare A: Yes

Claire W: because of the ….

Clare A: This was just last year was it?

Claire W: Yes, they decided to register it as a commercial service, last September, and they have now stopped the service because they have found out that it wasn’t commercially viable

Clare A: but if they were given a subsidy, why would they register it as being commercial? It just doesn’t make sense!

Claire W: Its…that was a decision for R & B

Clare A: OK, now you are going to put it out to tender again….

Claire W: Yes

Clare A: So at the moment we have Minsterley Motors running part of the existing service, so will you be putting the money back in again to help run the new service?

Claire W: Yes, we will be putting a new tender out for a subsidised service

Clare A: Right, and how much will you be contributing to that?

Claire W: That’s commercially sensitive because obviously if we’re putting a tender out at the moment and we tell you how much we are paying, then obviously people will know how much to quote

Clare A: So there is enough money to subsidise the bus services then?

Claire W: Absolutely

Clare A: Right, so that’s not an issue. The people of… I’ve got an email from Andy here, who says, “the people of this town thought we had a deal with the Council that car parking charges would be used to subsidise the Park and Ride and town bus service, is that correct?”

Claire W: The car parking charges do subside the bus services or they will subsidise the bus service, yes, they will

Clare A: .and the subsidy that you were offering for the next service….

Claire W: yes

Clare: is this a long term subsidy?

Claire W: yes, it will be, the contracts are usually for three years with an option to take an extra two years

Clare A: and is there a danger that no-one will want to run the service because of what’s happened previously?

Claire W: no, because R &B applied for a commercial service, this isn’t, we’re putting a tender out for a subsidised service

Clare A: and when do you think that will be in place?

Claire W: Well, we’ve got to put the tenders out so realistically what we are doing at the moment will probably carry on for the next three months and then we will have a proper contract in place

Clare A: is there not going to be an issue though, I mean we have a growing elderly population, more pensioners around, more will be using bus passes, so not paying for the services, is this going to become more of a problem then for bus services not making money?

Claire W: No because when concessions use the buses they get the money back from the Council

Clare A: Right, so what’s the next stage?

Claire W: OK so what’s the next stage, well, this morning the buses should be running hourly….

Clare A: ….so that’s changed from half hourly to hourly….

Claire W: well…if I can explain… we only actually received confirmation from the Office of the Traffic Commissioner on the 24th that the service would stop on the 26th, so obviously Shropshire Council didn’t have much time to put something in place, so what we did last Thursday was we organised for the hourly bus to start this morning. As from Wednesday, we will have a half hour service

Clare A: so you’re saying you only just knew about this last week?

Claire W: Yes.

Clare A: and yet the Ludlow people…the Ludlow Council new about it in November?

Claire W: Well that’s not strictly true, what happens is the Officer of the Traffic Commissioner has to be notified if a commercial service is going to stop, those notices are put in fortnightly, Shropshire Council have been checking, and up until last week, R & B had not put a notice in to stop the service. Usually they have to apply 56 days before they stop the service, and they didn’t do that, so what they did was they stopped under a short notice stop order, and we, as I say we only received notification of that on Wednesday

Clare A: Right, so we’ve got an hourly service starting from this morning

Claire W: Yes

Clare A: and when do you expect to find out what’s going to happen ……from the future….when are you putting the tender out….

Claire W: we’ll be putting the tender out later today ….and can I just say that I have great sympathy for the people of Ludlow, because the bus service is very important, and I recognise that, and this morning I am going to go over to Ludlow to see how the buses are running and talk to the people there, because it hasn’t been great for them. I recognise that, but our hands have been tied, because it has, you know, it was a commercial service

Clare A: Ok, Claire, good to talk to you, thank you very much for coming in

Claire W: OK, thank you

Many thanks to my colleague Vanessa Voisey for this transcript.

The Ludlow meeting with Claire Wild

A meeting was held between Claire Wild and local councillors Viv Parry, Tracey Huffer and Richard Huffer. Wild brought the Tory candidate for the expected Ludlow North byelection, Mr Bevington, along with her – even though it was a meeting between councillors. I gatecrashed the end of the meeting.

At the end of that meeting, Claire Wild said that she and Mr Bevington were gong to get on the buses and talk to passengers. It didn’t happen. When the bus arrived, Claire Wild castigated the driver for handing out leaflets printed by us Lib Dems. That’s unfair as its Lib Dems that have been riding the buses for days telling people about the last minute changes to services. Its been us that have got the information out – not Shropshire Council or the Tories. But just two minutes later, Wild and Bevington walked off having not spoken to a single passenger.

Claire Wild told BBC Shropshire:

This morning I am going to go over to Ludlow to see how the buses are running and talk to the people there.

She didn’t do that. She has had no engagement with Ludlow bus users whatsoever.