FEARS have been raised about the "devastating" impact as the axe is wielded on Dorset's bus services again.

Serious concerns are being voiced over proposals that would reduce the number of services supported by Dorset County Council from 35 down to just seven as it seeks to save £1.85million.

With the county's bus network having deteriorated considerably in recent years as the council looks to reduce its budget, it is feared that the latest reductions will hit vulnerable people the hardest.

Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesman and county councillor Andy Canning said: "This will have a devastating effect on everyone who doesn’t have access to a car.

"It will increase isolation as those on low incomes, poor mobility and the elderly, who live anywhere that isn’t close to a town centre, will become stranded in their homes. "How are people to get food, to do their shopping or get to the doctors or the hospital?

"Some may be able to rely on family or friends some of the time, but many others will not."

Bus services not included in the tendering process for contracts include the numbers 1, 2 and 6 Dorchester town services, the number 44 from West Bay to Bridport, the 71 Lyme Regis town service, the 101 route between Crossways and Dorchester, the 210 from Litton Cheney to Bridport, the 211 Poundbury to Weymouth route, the number 212 from Dorchester to Yeovil and the 311 between the county town and Blandford.

Cllr Canning said the routes will cease to be subsidised by the council from July 22 and, while a very few of them could potentially be taken on by commercial operators, the vast majority were not commercially viable and would more than likely come to an end.

He said he will be launching a petition at west-dorset-libdems.org.uk and working with effected parish councils and bus users to challenge the whole process. He said: "These cuts are going too far and are not in the interests of Dorset residents.

"I just don't know how people will manage if they don't have friends or family who can support them."

Cllr Canning said that community transport alternatives reliant on volunteers may be suitable for some smaller communities, but in places such as Crossways where there is likely to be a large demand for services there may not be enough volunteers to provide the service.

In place of the existing services the council is set to go out to tender on seven "interurban routes" including between Blandford and Dorchester and Sherborne and the county town.

CLLR Peter Finney, Dorset County Council’s Cabinet member for environment, highways and infrastructure, said: "As agreed by the county council last year, we need to save a further £1.85m from our public and schools transport budget in 2017/18 on top of the £500,000 saved from our subsidised bus routes in 2016/17.

"We have carried out a wide-ranging review of services in order to get the best possible outcome for local people within the available the funding.

"Our approach aims to develop a sustainable transport network for Dorset by prioritising the remaining subsidy on routes that serve the most people and contribute the most to Dorset’s economy.

"This is built on a core network of town-to-town routes that serve around 80 per cent of our population. We will encourage operators to open up many more school routes to the public, helping those over 16 get to education and rural residents to access market towns.

"We intend to link special school and adult social care transport in a way makes best use of our own buses and means they can be used by the community when running to and from schools and day centres. "We are continuing to encourage the development of more community-based transport schemes for social and leisure purposes. We have developed a toolkit and offered grants for community groups to start their own transport schemes, which have led to a number of successful start-ups and a lot of interest from communities.

"We will also work closely with operators to run rural 'in-fill' services between school opening and closing times, making use of empty vehicles travelling to and from schools services.

"A comprehensive consultation between May and July 2016 received 2,605 responses. Of these, 54 per cent agreed with this approach compared with 27 per cent who disagreed."