BOSSES at County Hall rejected the Journal’s Stop Bus Cuts petition on Tuesday, claiming they were “not making any cuts”.
Conservative councillors lined up to slam this newspaper’s campaign which gathered more than 6,000 signatures.
Despite a recent consultation outlining six proposals to cut bus subsidies, none of which protected services, cabinet member for transport Philip Whitehead said: “[Wiltshire Council is] probably the only authority in the UK this year which is not making cuts to the buses and there are no plans to cut the buses.”
But Cllr Whitehead made no mention of plans for after the election in May next year, and former Lib Dem group leader Jon Hubbard described his speech as “one of the finest pieces of spin” he had heard in his political career.
Even transport portfolio holder Horace Prickett admitted it was “possible that some cuts are going to come”.
The council is not legally required to provide bus subsidies and held a public consultation into the impact of scrapping unprofitable rural, evening and weekend services. More than 11,000 people responded.
Presenting the petition, Journal publisher Bill Browne said: “We did [the petition] to bring attention to something important that was – in our view – in danger of going under the radar. What some have described as the potential immobilising of many people in this county.
“People who will find life difficult and will have the quality of life severely impacted by a removal of services.
“Your consultation offers six options — but none allow for the status quo. And if our petition is blunt then some might think your consultation is pointed in only one direction.”
Cllr Whitehead claimed people were being “threatened” by the reporting and claimed articles did not direct readers to fill out the council’s consultation. In reality, a link to the document was published in the Journal six times throughout the 13-week consultation period.
“It is such a shame that instead of having a simple petition talking about cuts that do not exist, Salisbury Journal did not encourage its readers to fill out the consultation and give us information we want so we can make more intelligent decisions,” he added.
“All it has achieved is 6,000 signatures on a petition that is based on false information.” Opposition councillors hit back with Cllr Hubbard giving the Journal “full credit” for its petition.
He said: “The consultation is all about how to cut spending on bus services therefore it is perfectly reasonable for a community to respond by saying we would rather you didn’t.”
Labour’s John Walsh said history was against Cllr Whitehead, with council consultations normally leading to cuts. He said: “I listened with great incredulity to [Cllr Whitehead] explaining how there would be no cuts.
“I did notice of course how he mentioned 2016/17, so the elephant in the room is what is going to happen after the local elections [next year]. I also think [the Journal] are very wise to put a shot across the bow of the executive and the cabinet member to say quite clearly that the people in the south of the county are very concerned about what is happening.”