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EXCLUSIVE: Council staff bus cost £70,000 over five months
5:00am Monday 21st October 2013 in News
A MINIBUS service taking council workers between offices in Weymouth and Dorchester cost more than £70,000, it has been revealed.
The bus was in use between January and June this year and figures show that as few as three people at a time used the service.
Overall, less than half of those eligible were using the shuttle bus on a daily basis.
Figures obtained by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the trial service cost £70,040 in the five months it was in operation.
Chairman of the shared services joint advisory committee councillor Mike Goodman defended the trial.
He said: “We were trying as an experiment to see if we could be both reasonable to the staff and friendly to the environment.
“A bus with a lot of people in is more environmentally sound that separate cars. As an experiment it was worth it.
“In the event it did not pan out so we stopped it.”
Coun Goodman added that in the public and private sectors 'most people would expect' financial help while they were relocating their place of work.
But Dorchester Town Councillor David Taylor said the amount spent on the service was 'outrageous'.
He said: “At a time when we are all scrimping to get by, this is a huge expense.
“It is just the principle of the thing. Bus services are being slashed and villagers left isolated and they are giving perks to people who don't really need it.”
Owermoigne resident Keith Morton spoke out about the issue when Dorset County Council announced a review of public bus services, though this is unconnected to the shuttle bus.
He said: “It's scandalous that a handful of borough and district council employees got this service for free.
“I'm tired of being told that the councils are saving money when they are spending so much on things like this.
“It's fiscal foolishness.”
The minibus service was scrapped following a report in June that found the low numbers of users made it too expensive to continue.
The report states: “Following a three month trial of the shuttle bus service for staff, a review of the usage of the service had been undertaken.
“Although 100 staff had been identified as being required to relocate to a work base away from their home town, the survey had revealed that take up was not as high as had been anticipated, with approximately 40 staff a day using the service.
“Based on the low usage the partnership could not afford to continue to support the shuttle bus and the service would be terminated at the end of June 2013.”
The report stated that if the 40 people using the shuttle bus service daily had instead claimed the £4 per day travel allowance, this would have cost £38,000 per year. There would also be annual savings of £12,000 in Royal Mail courier service costs.
The lowest cost of running the service per year was set at £62,736 following the trial.
To continue running the service as it was during the trial would cost £118,308 per year.
Staff bus introduced following service sharing agreement
THE shuttle bus was introduced as a trial in January for the use of council workers who had to move offices following the merger of services between Weymouth and Portland Borough and West Dorset District Councils.
Coun Goodman said that it was intended to complement a proposed shuttle service run by Dorset County Council between Weymouth and Dorchester to link up with the Park and Ride sites.
But this idea was scrapped after the shared services joint advisory committee had announced it would be running their own service.
Staff who did not use the minibus service could claim costs up to the equivalent of a return train fare between Weymouth and Dorchester, or milage if travelling in their own vehicle, and can still do so under an agreement with the trade unions.
This will continue until three years from the date of relocation.
Coun Goodman said this was part of a package of negotiations.
Councils say savings still being made
DAVID Evans, Director of Environment for West Dorset District Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, said: “The shared service partnership between West Dorset District Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council has saved local taxpayers £2 million a year and enabled both councils to protect essential services at a time when our funding from Government is falling.“The two councils now share one workforce with a smaller management team.
Many staff were compulsorily moved to a different work base in either Dorchester or Weymouth and in order to change contracts of employment the council was legally obliged to enter into an agreement with trade unions to compensate staff for some of their extra travel costs and travel time.
“It was agreed a trial minibus service would be provided at peak times as a green and efficient way of getting staff who have a new work base to and from work. The service was also a greener option as it helped to reduce the number of cars on the roads and maximise the number of town centre parking spaces available to shoppers and other workers.
“A comprehensive online survey was conducted with staff before the trial to determine likely user levels and we continued to monitor usage and benefits throughout the trial. In June it was agreed the trial service would not continue. Although the service was highly valued by staff who used it and made the transition to new offices a much easier process, it did not represent value for money in the long term.”
Service was underused
THE average number of users on the 17-seat minibus ranged from three when the service started at 7am to 15 at 8am, according to the June report.
The service ran four times during the lunch period carrying between one and three passengers.
In the evenings the most popular time was 5.15pm which carried an average of 14 workers.
But the 5pm service only carried three.
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