Wrexham Council has been accused of “keeping bus users in the dark” after a local bus firm ceased trading suddenly before Christmas – however a senior councillor has hit back at the claims and branded emergency Welsh Government funding as “smoke and mirrors”.
The local authority has been criticised by Clwyd South AM Ken Skates and leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Dana Davies, who say it has reacted slowly to the closure of Acrefair-based D Jones & Son.
A number of bus routes and passengers across the county borough were affected by the sudden closure of the company, which ran its last service on December 16th 2017.
Emergency provision was put in place for schools in the county borough which had been served by D Jones & Son, with alternative providers announcing they would take over some of the commercial routes.
But the sudden closure of D Jones & Son has left some communities without a bus service, with campaigner Jenny Miller from Penley explaining that it was the third time in 18 months that her area had been left without a bus service.
She added: “Some people have lost their jobs, others have been unable to attend important medical appointments in Wrexham and Whitchurch.
“We have previously been ‘assured’ by WCBC that they have a contingency plan in place.”
Last week Wrexham Council confirmed that the 146 Wrexham – Whitchurch service would be taken over by Pat’s Coaches, with the route operating on the original timetable from the start of this week.
However Jenny said residents in the Maelor villages remain ‘very disappointed’ with the lack of communication from the council.
Cllr Davies said the “lack of communication from the council isn’t helping” and that “lessons don’t seem to have been learned” following the sudden collapse of GHA Coaches in summer 2016.
She added: “Just over 12 months ago, the Welsh Government gave the three North East Wales councils an extra £300,000 to ensure contingency plans were in place if we saw another scenario like we did when GHA Coaches collapsed.
“Fast-forward a year and we’re in the same position again. Lessons don’t seem to have been learned.
“The public need to know what’s going on. They are understandably worried, and the lack of communication from the council isn’t helping.
“People rely on these buses for work, hospital appointments, to do their shopping, and they are being kept in the dark.”
Ken Skates AM has also contacted the council urging them to act.
He said: “This is causing huge problems for my constituents, especially those in the more remote areas. It’s causing chaos, with people having to change work hours, miss appointments and pay money they haven’t got for taxis. We need action.”
In December 2016, the Welsh Government announced emergency funding of £300,000 for Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire councils to restore key routes and get improved contingency plans in place. This was in addition to the funding local councils get from the Welsh Government each year to subsidise bus services in their area.
However Lead Member for Environment and Transport, Cllr David A Bithell, has hit back at the comments, pointing out that Wrexham Council had only “received £39k of the so called £300k” and suggested the funding was “all smoke and mirrors”.
Cllr Bithell said: “I am rather shocked that the Leader of Wrexham Labour Party Dana Davies is asking what is happening when two information reports have been sent to all elected members and a number of services have been reintroduced by our officers working to our contingency plan.
“It seems a bit rich from the minister with responsibility for Transport in Wales criticising Wrexham Council when we only received 39k of the so called 300k, this was on the back of the collapse of GHA. Since then another operator has ceased to trade.”
Cllr Bithell added: “The role of the council is limited and people need to understand how the bus industry operates since de-Regulation and that many of the buses which operate are commercially operated.
“I welcomed the ministers intervention at the time, but it seems that it was all “smoke and mirrors”.