THE man overseeing widespread and controversial cuts to bus services in the county has switched jobs just days before a decision is due to be made.
Lionel Barnard (Con, Henfield) had been West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport.
But in Monday’s reshuffle, shortly before a decision due to affect the lives of thousands of people is made, it was announced that he would take on the Communities, Environment and Enterprise portfolio, previously Environment and Economy.
Highways and transport has become a separate portfolio and will be looked after by Pieter Montyn (Con, The Witterings), who joins the cabinet.
Caroline Collins has been fighting, along with other campaigners, to save the number 86 Metrobus service, which Cowfold villagers believe will be axed.
She said: “We’re not interested in political gains and all we want is somebody to listen to the public.”
But she believed there were political tactics involved in moving cabinet members away from issues that had attracted a lot of public response.
“I believe they have decided he’s not the most appropriate man for this job anymore otherwise why would they have moved at this strategic point in the process.”
Lib Dem group leader on the county council Morwen Millson (Horsham, Riverside) said: “It is never ideal to have any sort of reshuffle which happens in the middle of a period of decision but I guess if you’re going to have a reshuffle you’re always going to be in the middle of something.
“The only thing I can think of is that she (Mrs Goldsmith) didn’t realise how imminent the decision was.“The situation is somewhat eased by the fact the new cabinet member for highways and transport is the guy who is chairing the bus working group so he probably knows more than the previous cabinet member.”
Council leader Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West) added: “Pieter has been a deputy to Lionel on highways issues so he brings a great deal of experience to this role. He has also been heavily involved in the work that has been taking place to assess the impact of reducing subsidies to bus operators.”
Mr Barnard said: “Far from being removed from any portfolio, I have been asked to deliver a very challenging set of objectives.
“I am an experienced cabinet member, and keen to serve the people of West Sussex in whatever capacity the leader feels is worthwhile.”