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MAJOR FEARS: Worries over ‘massive’ Metro cash shortage

MAJOR FEARS: Worries over ‘massive’ Metro cash shortage

Greg Stone, Newcastle Lib Dem opposition transport spokesman, Image: NCJ Media

Major fears have been aired over an imminent £19m black hole facing the North East’s public transport services.

It was revealed last month that Tyne and Wear Metro and local bus services could be facing serious cuts in a matter of months, after government bailout funding offered during the pandemic comes to an end next April.

Grim budget predictions estimate that Metro operator Nexus faces a £19.2m shortfall in 2022/23, £16m relating to the Metro and £3.2m to other transport such as the Shields Ferry and ‘secured’ bus services, and another £19.8m the following year.

Transport bosses renewed calls on Thursday for the government to keep propping up Metro services until passenger numbers return to pre-Covid levels.

But if ministers cannot be convinced to continue bailouts for the Metro and any extra funding from local councils or Nexus’ own cash reserves cannot cover the deficit, frontline services may need to be cut back.

At a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s (JTC) overview and scrutiny panel on Thursday, Newcastle councillor Greg Stone said that the region’s leaders faced a “series of serious and not very palatable” options and that “stark choices” had to be made about how to balance the books.

The Liberal Democrat also expressed fears that the financial crisis could dent hopes of the North East securing a long-coveted devolution deal from the government that would grant local officials widespread power over transport, saying he worried that ministers would not want to hand extra responsibility over to a region that “cannot deliver what we have now”.

County Durham Liberal Democrat Craig Martin added that the £19m shortfall “scared me” and “is going to have big knock-on effects for the region”.

He added: “This is another red mark on that budget that we do not know how we are going to fill. It is worrying where that money is going to be found and what that money is not going to be spent on.

“I can’t name a local authority in the North East of England that is not strapped for cash and is not having to make cuts just to keep things going, never mind this added transport pressure.”

David Taylor-Gooby, the committee’s chair, added that he worried that any cuts to public transport would be harmful to the North East’s push to reduce car journeys and cut air pollution.

The comments came as a new Urban Transport Group report was published stating that the Metro contributes around £290m to the Gross Value Added (GVA) of the North East economy and that two-thirds of its passengers do not have access to a car.

Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council and chair of the JTC, said: “Metro needs additional funding for the next few years while customer numbers and fare revenue recovers and that should be a question for the Government, as part of its funding for rail across the country.

“Metro has recovered faster than similar systems in other cities and that shows how important it is to our economy, but complete recovery won’t happen overnight and North East England needs a commitment from ministers for ongoing support when the current funding runs out in March next year.”

In response to concerns over the prospect of a transport devolution deal for the North East, Coun Gannon said that the “issue in hand relates to a Covid funding shortfall and the need for the Government to provide additional funding”.

 

Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter


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