DOUBT surrounds the future of a council-run bus service amid deteriorating finances and the threat of losing its licence.

Halton Transport’s losses have spiralled over the past two years, soaring from £50,500 in 2017 to almost £620,000 last year and raising fears that it could be on the brink of collapse.

Halton Council, which owns Halton Transport, has called a crunch meeting on Wednesday to discuss the borough’s public transport provision. The meeting will be held in private, but is believed to be concerned with the future of Halton Transport and its bus routes.

The company currently operates the number 62 and 62A to Warrington town centre from Runcorn which could be in jeopardy if it folds.

Also at risk could be a £750,000 loan extended to the company by Halton Council last July in what appears to be an attempt to bail out the company.

On top of its mounting losses, Halton Transport’s most recent accounts show it is more than £450,000 overdrawn, does not have enough assets to cover its debts, and has frozen salaries in a bid to keep costs down.

The accounts, published at the end of last year, claim the delayed completion of the Silver Jubilee Bridge works has cost Halton Transport £100,000 a year while the rising cost of insurance settlements and deteriorating passenger revenue have eaten into the company’s finances.

The company also claimed that changes Merseytravel’s ticketing system have added to its costs.

The accounts state: “While some organisations will say Merseytravel is bucking the trend (in terms of passenger numbers) this is not reflected within the Borough of Halton.

“Indeed, the introduction of a multi-journey, multi-operator ticketing scheme by Merseytravel is clearly having an adverse effect on the revenue into the company.”

Halton Council, which owns the company, has convened a behind-closed-doors meeting on Wednesday (January 22) to discuss public transport provision in the borough, believed to be related to Halton Transport’s problems.

Although the council’s £750,000 loan covered Halton Transport’s losses last year, the cash-strapped local authority may not be able to bail out its bus company after it halted all non-essential spendingm last November.

If Halton Transport survives, a further problem awaits at the end of February.  The company has been called before the Traffic Commissioners, the body in charge of licensing bus companies, for a public hearing into whether Halton Transport is still fit to hold a licence.

If the hearing finds Halton Transport is no longer “of good repute”, “professionally competent” or has “appropriate financial standing”, the commissioners could revoke its operating licence.

Halton Council was approached for comment for this story.