Labour has launched its local election campaign pledging to end deregulation and hand control over local bus and rail networks to the regions.
Party grandees including shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher were in Leeds to promote the launch in advance of general and local elections on 7 May, and sign a ‘covenant’ with local government committing the party to a new deal on devolution.
The party attacked the 'broken' local bus market and committed to ending bus deregulation by allowing city and county regions the same power to control transport networks that London enjoys, where Transport for London sets routes and fares.
Currently local authorities can establish London-style franchising systems under a Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) but have to go through a time consuming process via the QCS board, which assesses whether a plan meets statutory public interest criteria.
So far no area has adopted a QCS, although a proposal from the North East Combined Authority is due to be considered by the board this summer.
Michael Dugher said: ‘It’s clear that like the energy market, the bus market is broken and isn’t working for the public interest. The majority of the bus market is dominated by just five firms yet all the powers lies with these companies and not with communities and passengers.'
Under the new plans ‘operators will no longer to be able to decide just to run on the most profitable routes’ he added, ‘through cross-subsidisation they will have to run routes that are vital for local communities as part of that overall contract’.
The bus market was deregulated outside London under the 1985 Transport Act, which privatised companies in the hope of introducing competition to improve services.
Central to Labour's devolution plans is also a commitment, first announced last summer, to devolve £30bn to local government over the next parliament through the retention of business rates.
Transport Network has been told the party would get rid of the local growth fund competitive bidding process as part of the £30bn plan, which would include cash for transport, housing, business support, employment and adult skills.
Labour previously outlined its transport plans in its Changing Britain together policy document, which vowed that Labour would devolve ‘regional transport decision making so that areas can bring together trains, buses, ferries and trams into a single network with smart-ticketing’.
The Party has also pledged to introduce ‘a strict cap on annual rail fare increases across all routes’ and to legislate so a public sector operator can compete against private companies to take on rail line tenders.