SENT BY EMAIL AND POST Bridget Phillipson MP Houghton and Sunderland South Constituency 1 Wylam Place Mill Pitt Shiney Row Houghton le Spring DH4 7JT
117 Queen Street Gateshead Tyne and Wear NE8 2UA t: 0845 60 60 260 f: 0191 4200225 www.simplygo.com
24 August 2012 KC IM
Dear Bridget In respect of your letter of 23 August, I would respond as follows to the points raised. I should explain that the agreed change date for services in the Sunderland area is the last Sunday in October. Our consultation timing is geared to that date and to the 56 days advance notice due to the Traffic Commissioner ahead of implementation, which takes us to Friday 31 August. We have however, in view of concerns expressed about the time available for the consultation, extended the deadline for input right up until the very last day, the 31 August. This was announced yesterday and advised to Nexus and officers of the council. We have also increased resources to continue the on bus consultation survey for the further week. We are drawing the attention of bus users in the area to the consultation via bus notices, on line via our website and daily Facebook and Twitter messages, and through the Sunderland Echo. We have had meetings over recent weeks with Nexus to discuss our proposals and further discussions are underway. Discussions on some of the proposals with Nexus go back over a year. We are also meeting the officers of the council next week. We need to be mindful that these are proposals and we are genuinely committed to reviewing such proposals where we are able to do so, as we have demonstrated on many occasions. We have established consultation methods that have routinely been undertaken across the region for a number of years now, and which have been independently praised both locally (by at least one council within Tyne and Wear and by others outside of Tyne and Wear) and nationally (publicly by Bus Users UK). The consultation processes are by no means perfect, few consultation methods are, and I certainly recognise that we should have included you within our stakeholder consultations. Unfortunately the consultations sent to councillors were slightly delayed due to an internal problem. The extended deadline will I hope facilitate feedback on the substance of our proposals from those wishing to express a view. Contâ€™d â€Ś../2
At the heart of the dispute over consultation processes in the Sunderland area is the fact that there are no clear protocols agreed between us and Sunderland City Council, but this is not for lack of trying on our part. We have such protocols in place in our East Gateshead Partnership with Nexus and Gateshead Council. Over a number of years we have proposed establishing a partnership with Sunderland City Council that would include a formal agreement covering, amongst other things, consultation arrangements for service changes. The most recent discussion was at the end of 2011 when discussions appeared to be moving forward positively. Regrettably, rather suddenly and without explanation, the dialogue was halted at the council end, perhaps coinciding with the new bus strategy agenda. So with still no clear understanding on a consultation procedure it is inevitable that difficulties are going to arise around expectations from a consultation exercise, especially given the difficult decisions that have to be taken at times. Within our proposals there are a number of measures which genuinely respond to customers’ requests and feedback in very positive ways. These are summarised as:
More buses serving Hetton Downs, returning the service to what it was before the changes that led to the compromise creation of the X36 and X37.
Quicker buses between Sunderland City Centre, The Herringtons, Herrington Burn and Burnside Estate.
More buses to Sunderland City Centre from Penshaw, Harraton and Washington.
More buses from Sunderland City Centre to Doxford Park serving Tunstall Bank and Ryhope.
New link from Harraton, Rickleton and Birtley.
Faster buses serving Rainton Bridge, from Sunderland City Centre and Durham City.
More buses to Sunderland Royal Hospital from Low Moorsley, Hetton-leHole and Hetton Downs.
More buses to Sunderland City Centre along Tunstall Road and Leechmere Road.
New link from Chester-le-Street to Concord serving Ayton Village.
Quicker journeys to South Shields, from Houghton le Spring and from Durham Road, Sunderland.
I hope you will agree that while these include some measures outside of your constituency, our proposals include valuable benefits for a number of your constituents. Yes there are some negative measures in the proposals in so far as there are unavoidable economies that need to be made in light of the rising costs of fuel and other operational costs, exacerbated by reductions in public sector funding that are impacting most severely on the least used services which as a result have to be modified, provided in different ways or, in the worst cases, withdrawn. However, we have continued to be very careful to achieve these economies without leaving people who currently have a service without one; although this may mean a different route or the need to change buses in some cases.
I am very happy to share these comments with your constituents, and I am very happy to discuss the profitability of our services with you. As you know we have endeavoured to be open and transparent in all things, the discussions my colleague Martin Harris had with you, your questions about BSOG payments being a case in point. However, I do not believe it would be reasonable for me to publish detailed information on the profitability of individual services publicly – this is clearly commercially sensitive information. We have openly confirmed our overall profitability in our previous meeting with you and elsewhere – a margin of just over 7% and a profit in cash terms of just above £7million; a figure that consistently has been exceeded year after year by the investment of capital in our service and infrastructure by Go North East. This year we propose to invest in excess of £20 million in new vehicles and depot facilities. I will ensure that you are kept posted on how the proposals are progressing and any changes being made to them in the light of our consultation. I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss the foregoing matters and indeed any other points of concern. Yours sincerely
Kevin Carr Kevin Carr Managing Director