Ministers have faced criticism after it emerged that funding ‘to improve’ bus services in England has shrunk, with half the £3bn pledged being spent on supporting the industry through the pandemic.
Citing a letter sent to Local Transport Authority (LTA) directors by the Department for Transport, (DfT), the Observer said the budget for the transformation of buses has now shrunk to just £1.4bn for the next three years.
Last year’s National Bus Strategy - called 'Bus Back Better' - states: ‘Even before the pandemic started, the Government had committed £3bn of new money during the current Parliament to improve buses outside London.’
However, last month, in response to a parliamentary question from Labour shadow transport minister Sam Tarry, DfT minister Trudy Harrison said that more than £3bn for buses over the current Parliament that was set out in the Spending Review included ‘£1.5bn Covid support to maintain service levels until next April’.
She also cited £1.2bn for bus transformation deals; £525m to deliver zero emission buses; and ‘over £500m from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements that will directly fund bus infrastructure’.
Following the Spending Review, industry body the Confederation of Passenger Transport had estimated that funding bids from local authorities and bus operators for Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) totalled more than £7bn, which it said was ‘significantly more than the funding announced at last month’s Spending Review’.
According to the Observer, the letter to LTA directors from the DfT said current funding levels mean that ‘prioritisation is inevitable, given the scale of ambition across the country greatly exceeds the amount’. However, this would be the case even if £3bn were available.
On Sunday, Mr Tarry tweeted: ‘Yet again, the Prime Minister has over-promised and under-delivered. The Tories pledged 'transformational' investment in bus services. Instead, they've slashed services and dramatically downgraded the ambitions of local communities.’
A Department for Transport spokesperson told the Observer: ‘It is incorrect to claim that funding has been cut from our original ambition. Over this parliament, the government has committed to making a step change investment of over £3bn into bus services.’
However, this appears to include revenue to support bus services during the pandemic, reflecting the Government’s approach of describing nearly all spending as ‘investment'.
Jonathan Bray, director of the Urban Transport Group, said: ‘We welcome any additional funding for buses given they are relied upon by those communities with the least and which are most in need of levelling up. However it is disappointing that the Treasury has substantially reduced the amount we were originally promised.’