A BUS company at the centre of a row over services to Woodley and Earley has denied any rift with Wokingham Borough Council, despite a motion urging it to apologise.
At the meeting of Wokingham Borough Council on Thursday, November 23, Bulmershe and Whitegates Labour councillor Andy Croy attempted to bring a cross party motion expressing regret that funding had not been found to restore the 19a/c service that linked Woodley and Earley with neighbouring Reading.
The motion would have said that the replacement services were not fit for purpose that the council would apologise to residents for the distress, upset and inconvenience caused by the ending the 19a/c service.
It also called on the council to “instruct the Lead Member for Highways and Transport to discuss with Reading Buses any opportunity to re-extend the 19a/c service until the tender process is completed and an acceptable new service is in place”.
But an amendment was tabled by fellow Woodley councillor Keith Baker (Conservatives), which changed the wording to include Reading Buses.
The changes included: “Despite Wokingham Borough Council increasing its funding, we have to date been unable to encourage Reading Buses to find adequate funding to extend the 19a/c service beyond September 2017” and that “Reading Buses should apologise to residents for the distress, upset and inconvenience caused by the ending the 19a/c service”.
It also called on Reading Buses to fund the route until a new service was put in place.
Cllr Baker said: “The intention of this amendment is to de-politicise this motion.
“It was Reading Buses who came to this council and said they could no longer absorb the huge losses of this service. Reading Buses were the ones who “drove” the changes in this service by their actions.
“Reading Buses, who already receive a subsidy of £70,000, requested an additional £100,000 subsidy to continue the service unaltered. This council agreed an additional £44,000 payment and the response from Reading Buses was to remove the peak hour portions of the service.”
Fellow Conservative, Cllr David Chopping, supported the revised motion.
He said: “You can imagine our surprise when we found out that, arbitrarily, that the commercially successful section of the route – before 9am – was pulled in favour of a circuitous re-routing down to Whitley. That change alone destroys the old route, but will advantage Labour voters in Whitley!
“Maiden Erlegh and the Woodley link are ignored.”
“The new Reading East MP [Labour’s Matt Rodda] should be given every opportunity to bring pressure to bear on his Labour colleagues on Reading Council, who own the bus company.
“Blackmailing us is not the way forward.”
Politicised or not?
The revised motion was passed, but the Liberal Democrats and Labour voted against as they felt the amendments politicised the motion, whereas Cllr Croy’s original didn’t.
Speaking to The Wokingham Paper, Cllr Lindsay Ferris said: “The Conservatives made the motion more political than before, save for the final part [which urged a cross-party solution]. It was all blaming Reading Buses.
“The original motion was very neutral, it was a classic example of being apolitical when they were being as political as they could be. It’s why Andy Croy couldn’t support them and why we backed Cllr Croy.
“What was supposed to be a neutral amendment wasn’t at all.”
This view was echoed by Cllr Croy.
He told The Wokingham Paper: “The motion I presented was a cross-party motion, the Tories had the chance to pass a feasible motion which would require our borough council to find extra funding needed to fund the 19a/c services.
“The Conservatives were unable to distinguish between their interests and Wokingham Borough Council’s interests. Conservatives and Wokingham Borough Council are not the same thing.
“They are making things up and using strawmen to divert attention from the fact that they will not or cannot agree with Reading Buses a reasonable price for funding the services.
“It’s an unbelievable way to treat a potential supplier: having the councillors at war with them [Reading Buses] is the burning of bridges.”
He added: “Thank goodness the professionals in the WBC Transport Team, not Borough Councillors, manage the relationship between WBC and RBC.”
Joint statement from Reading Buses and Wokingham Borough Council
In a joint statement from Wokingham Borough Council and Reading Buses, the two groups emphasises a business as usual relationship.
It reads: “This is a Wokingham Borough Council contract which is organised and procured by the Council.
“Wokingham Borough Council and Reading Buses have an excellent working relationship and have jointly over the past 12 months been reviewing options for the 19a/c service which could meet the needs of Wokingham Borough Council’s resident and service users; this includes the interim arrangement that is currently in place until September 2018.
“Wokingham Borough Council completed a consultation from residents and service users and will continue to work closely in partnership with Reading Buses to ensure any service procured by Wokingham Borough Council will meet the needs of service users after taking into consideration the funding available from Wokingham Borough Council for the financial support of any service.”