I RAISED the provision of local bus services directly with the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, during questions in the Assembly earlier this month.

As regular Argus readers will know, it’s an issue that’s been in the spotlight lately following Stagecoach’s announcement they’d be cutting back or completely withdrawing a number of really valued services - including the number 30 Brynmawr-Cwmbran route that calls at a number of more remote communities in my constituency.

Unsurprisingly, news of Stagecoach’s plans caused huge concern locally, particularly among the elderly and less mobile residents who rely on buses to access the basic services they need to get by.

And while the council in Torfaen have been working flat out to find an alternative operator to take over the route and are hopeful another company will step in to fill the gap, clearly there’s a wider issue at stake here too.

A recent report by the Older People’s Commissioner, Sarah Rochira, focused on the importance of local bus services as part of a wider assessment of the impact of cuts on the elderly, and I know it was a topic that came up several times during a joint coffee morning we held in Pontypool recently.

And this doesn’t just affect older people. We know, for example, that the loss of bus services has more impact in deprived communities where car ownership rates are lower, and a recent survey of passengers on one section of the number 30 route found that more than half were using the service to commute to and from work.

While it’s true that the Welsh Government has been forced into changing to its subsidy arrangements because of swingeing cuts imposed by the Government in Westminster, it’s also a fact that companies like Stagecoach have benefitted hugely from Assembly-funded schemes like free bus passes for the over 65s.

I strongly feel that we’re still paying the price for Mrs Thatcher’s ideologically driven and misguided deregulation of the bus industry back in the eighties, which created a system whereby large-scale operators can simply cherry-pick profitable services, whilst they cut and run from other important routes.

I welcome the fact the fact that the Welsh Government recently established a new Bus Policy Advisory Group to look at some of these long-term issues, I’m also very keen to hear the views of Torfaen residents.

I can be contacted at lynne.neagle@wales.gov.uk, or via my office on 01495 740022.