“A VITAL lifeline” for Wee County families needing transport to hospital could change as bus contracts to Larbert are due to be renegotiated.

Elected members at last Thursday’s full Clackmannanshire Council meeting were notified the C1, C2 as well as H1 and H2 services are going out to tender as the current contract is due to expire in March next year.

The local authority, which subsidises transport to Forth Valley Royal Hospital together with the local health board, wants more information on the routes before any final decision is made.

It could be that the status quo is maintained and the four routes keep running separately but a type of integration between the lines is also on the table with the four combined into three.

The services are used by a range of people in the Wee County and their importance is being highlighted by Dollar Community Development Trust, who are working with the Clackmannanshire Community Transport Association to improve provision in the area.

Buses are often used for destinations other than the hospital as well with many accessing local amenities.

The trust’s Fiona McGregor explained the H2 had been the only regular service in the town since the C69 disappeared and the 23 reduced its timetable.

She said: “Running six days a week from 5.30am in the morning until 11.30pm at night, the H2 provides a vital lifeline for those without cars who need access to Alloa for work, shopping, banking, Alloa Railway Station and young people attending Forth Valley College as well as people working at Forth Valley Hospital or attending as outpatients or visitors.

“Dollar residents who use the H2 bus regularly report that it is a reliable and friendly service, although to get the best out of it you do need to plan your journey times carefully. Running only every two hours, if you miss your bus there can be a long wait for the next one.”

Fiona added that the lack of buses on Sunday was a “frequent complaint” and even a limited service “would be much appreciated”.

During the meeting in Kilncraigs, councillors were keen to make sure the frequency and coverage of the servies are not reduced, the public are consulted and that NHS Forth Valley is keeping its end of a legal agreement which underpins the provision.

Conservative group leader Councillor Bill Mason also stressed the buses were often a “lifeline” for people, especially around Hillfoots, and was mindful the area would suffer with no service.

Elected members were told that in 2014, when contracts were also expiring, the health board were not keen to renew the provision on a like-for-like basis and an intervention from the Scottish Government was necessary.

SNP leader Cllr Les Sharp said “the reluctance” of NHS Forth Valley was “well-documented” but the administration is determined to reach an agreement again.

Labour leader Cllr Dave Clark lashed out, claiming the health board “lied” when it originally gave assurances it would provide transport for the Wee County.

MSP Keith Brown, who was in talks with the health board a few years ago, also added following the meeting: “When agreement was given to site the hospital at Larbert, a commitment was given to provide a comprehensive bus service which would allow communities across Clackmannanshire to access the hospital and I am clear that Forth Valley NHS are obliged to ensure this service continues.

“I welcome the moves by Forth Valley Health Board and Clackmannanshire to try and integrate their bus services but I am clear that there must be no diminution to either the frequency of or the routes covered by the current H1 and H2 services.”