Bus funding 'not enough to transform sevices'


Ministers will need to find cash beyond 2025 to truly transform bus services in the way envisaged by the National Bus Strategy, the chair of the Transport Select Committee has said.

The committee has published the Department for Transport’s (DfT) response to its report on buses in March, which said the 2021 strategy was ‘ambitious and full of good ideas’ but must be supported by extra funding.

Chair Iain Stewart MP welcomed the announcement last month of additional cash for councils to 2025 and praised ministers for continuing to the £2 fare cap.

The committee had pointed out that 60% of councils that submitted Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) to the DfT had their bids rejected, while all received less than they asked for.

Mr Stewart said: ‘Our report warned that if the Government did not loosen the purse strings and give at least some BSIP funding to all areas of the country, a two-tier system could emerge, with some areas having notably worse services than others in neighbouring towns and cities.

‘Although the Government did not explicitly acknowledge this warning, we are pleased it appears to have taken the idea on board, and that the latest round of funding saw those councils that missed out last time getting some of the pie.

‘We still believe the Government should find more funding beyond 2025 to truly transform local services in the way its original Strategy envisaged. We look forward to hearing the outcome of the evaluation of BSIP funding that DfT now plans to conduct.’

On Tuesday (20 June), the North East Combined Authority resolved to divert up to £12.2m from its BSIP funding for current financial year to protect services threatened by the replacement of Bus Recovery Grant with what was expected to be less generous post-Covid subsidy.

According to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, the North East Joint Transport Committee was told that it was unclear how much of the cash, which was allocated ‘to secure and where possible improve bus services across the region’, will be needed to protect services from cuts and what might be left over to support improvements.

The paper said Gateshead council leader Martin Gannon had pointed out that the £163.5m BSIP funding was far less than the £804m the region had bid for, and said the cash ‘is what we were meant to use, not to prop up services that are no longer commercially viable, but to enhance and improve the quality and quantity of services’.

Government response

The transport committee noted that the Government’s response did not directly address its scepticism that the DfT will hit its target of getting 4,000 zero-emission buses (ZEBs) on UK roads by the end of the Parliament but noted that, in response to a recent written question it had said it had not estimated the average length time between funding being allocated and ZEBs becoming operational.

The Government reiterated its commitment to setting an end date for the sale of new non-zero emission buses 'shortly' and says 'in due course' it will publish a plan for phasing out non-electric buses entirely.

The DfT response committed to launching a consultation 'later this year' on reforming the Bus Service Operators Grant and said it will ‘explore mechanisms by which [the Grant] could support ZEB uptake’.

The response said new guidance will be published ‘during this parliament’ on socially and economically necessary bus services and said ministers will ‘consider statutorily requiring’ such services if the BSIP process does not result in improvements.

The DfT said in its response that franchising guidance will be issued ‘as soon as possible’, and that a call for evidence on allowing new municipal bus companies will be launched ‘during this parliament’.

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