Financial support for the routes, totalling £115,000, was approved by cabinet member for transport Lynne Stagg, despite concerns the lack of a competitive tender process opened the council up to legal action.
As a result of her decision, three of the five contracts – the 12, 22 and Sunday 13/14 services, have now been extended for a fifth time while the 25 had has its fourth extension and the weekday 13/14 its first. Uncertainty around Covid and government funding have required the extensions, a council report by transport development manager Peter Shelley said.
‘This further extension will enable effective competition as it will allow enough time to establish an operation, recruit drivers and source appropriate vehicles,’ his report added. ‘This will allow a decision to be made at a subsequent meeting with an award to commence on October 28, 2023.’
Conservative opposition spokesman for transport, Councillor Scott Payter-Harris, said it should be the last extension granted by the council.
‘We should be as pragmatic as possible, as we have been, but we also need to get a bit stronger in our relationship with the bus companies,’ he said. ‘At the moment, in this relationship, they seem to be the ones that get everything they want and we don’t.
‘There’s a case for us to be strong and go out to tender and show that we can get other people to operate the service because there’s almost a monopoly of First Bus and Stagecoach in the city and it would be nice to freshen things up a bit and maybe give them a kick up the backside at the same time.’
The council said it would retender the contracts before the end of the latest extension period.
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