Government defeated on Buses Bill, as franchising powers widened


Councils across England are in line for bus franchising powers without the need to ask for the secretary of state’s approval, after an amendment was passed in the House of Lords last night to the Bus Services Bill.

The amendment, which comes after months of Labour lobbying to widen the franchising powers, would allow a list of councils to access the powers under the Bill without going through an onerous permission process.


Previously only mayoral combined authorities could automatically opt for a franchise scheme if they believe that that is right for their area.

The amendment covers:

  • a mayoral combined authority
  • a county council in England for an area for which there are district councils
  • a county council in England for an area for which there is no district council
  • a non-metropolitan district council for an area for which there is no county council
  • an Integrated Transport Authority for an integrated transport area in England
  • a combined authority which is not a mayoral combined authority

Labour’s Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lady Jones of Whitchurch put forward the amendment, which was passed 167 to 150.

Lord Kennedy said he hoped it would ‘put the whole question of franchising on a level playing field’.

He added: ‘I hope that we can move away from effectively forcing authorities down a certain path if they want to have certain powers to a much more consensual approach, where it can be determined locally what is the best model for a locality and the full suite of powers be available, no matter what model is chosen.’

The amendment was vigorously opposed by government minister Lord Ahmad.

Lord Kennedy told Transport Network: 'Labour is generally supportive of this Bill, as it has the potential to improve bus patronage. But we've been concerned that the countryside is not going to reap any of the proposed benefits, especially with cuts to rural services already taking their toll. I hope ministers will see sense and accept our amendment.

'We're also working hard to ensure the Government does not ban municipal bus companies from bidding for contracts - including on rural routes that might be commercially unattractive to private firms. And we'll be fighting on behalf of those who want to protect their local bus routes as assets of community value, just as they might already do with the village pub."

Cllr Martin Tett, Local Government Association transport spokesman, said that ‘having to apply to the secretary of state could mean lengthy delays for councils’.

The move puts more pressure on the Scottish Government, which has previously refused to bring in bus franchising powers. Recently Fife Council passed a motion to write to the Government calling for the re-regulation of the bus market.

Transport Scotland has been approached for comment.

Road Expo is one of Scotland’s largest transport and road conference and exhibitions and takes place on the 2-3 November in Edinburgh this year. The event will feature more than 100 exhibitors and two CPD certified seminar theatres, curated by Transport Scotland and SCOTS. To book your free place register here.

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