Northants transport project fails to make predicted savings

Community interest company Societal was set up as a joint initiative by Northamptonshire County Council and the University of Northampton last year in a bid to bring together various travel schemes across the county
Community interest company Societal was set up as a joint initiative by Northamptonshire County Council and the University of Northampton last year in a bid to bring together various travel schemes across the county

An ambitious project to transform transport systems across Northamptonshire and make big savings has failed to deliver in its first year.

Community interest company Societal was set up as a joint initiative by Northamptonshire County Council and the University of Northampton last year in a bid to bring together various travel schemes across the county.

Reorganising the county council’s home to school transport service for special educational needs pupils and its social care transport scheme were part of big plans for the scheme, as well as changing transport services delivered by health organisations operating across Northamptonshire.

The council predicted the scheme would deliver £500,000 worth of savings for the council in 2017/18, but a financial report to go before the NCC cabinet meeting on Tuesday (May 8) says this is not the case.

Societal was hailed as an initiative that would revolutionise passenger transport in the county and make a profit on the county council’s current £15m transport spend.

It was claimed that: “This will turn the current £15m operation of NCC into an £80m business for Northamptonshire and provide opportunities for efficiencies and income through increased economies of scale and increased collaboration on transport provision across a range of organisations including NCC, University of Northampton, University of Hertfordshire and the NHS.”

Societal was created in May 2017 and led on from the two-year research project Total Transport which was funded by £750,000 of central government money. The original grant will also provide the first two years of operational costs from Societal alongside some investment from the university.

One of NCC’s top executive officers, former Director of Place, Environment, Planning and Transport Tony Ciaburro, was the first chief executive of Societal after leaving his NCC role in March 2017. He departed Societal late last year and since then the company has been led by academic Liam Fassam.

Mr Fassam is also director of education research unit The Institute for Logistics, Infrastructure, Supply and Transport.

He  said: “I think the  £500,000 proposed saving indicated in the report is misleading as we have not had our first year of operating as yet.

“The current situation at the county council means that things have stalled currently but we are still engaged with the home to school scheme and working on other projects. “

Mr Fassam said Societal had delivered other savings for NCC by taking over the management of the park and ride scheme, which is based at Sixfields and helps NCC staff get to work at its One Angel Square headquarters.

Societal is also currently working on modern transport solutions which aim to bring in a new way of buying and delivering public transport systems with schemes such as  demand led bus services and lift share.

Northamptonshire County Council  looks set to be replaced by a unitary authority in 2020.