The bus quality contract provision is one of the tools available to local transport authorities that wish to have more say over the way in which bus services are run. Two integrated transport authorities, in Tyne and Wear and West Yorkshire, have consulted informally on their plans for quality contract schemes, and I await developments with interest. In the meantime, I am concentrating on the benefits that partnership working between local authorities and bus companies can bring to bus services for passengers. On Tuesday, I announced that Sheffield would become the first better bus area and published guidance to help other places to bid for the same status.
Sir Brian Souter has said that he would rather take poison than enter a quality contract. Is it not the reality that bus operators would rather maximise their profits than look after the interests of the travelling public? Should not the priority be to improve bus services, rather than to put more money into the pockets of the bus operators?
Running a company well is a way of helping bus passengers. If a company does not look after its passengers, its services will suffer as a consequence, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise. Brian Souter has contributed a great deal to the development of bus services in this country, and that fact should be widely recognised by all. The hon. Gentleman should also recognise that legislation is on the statute book, and that Brian Souter is subject to that legislation, as is everybody else in this country.
With bus fares rising at twice the rate of inflation, why have the Government rigged the rules for the better bus area funding against transport authorities that adopt a quality contract, so that they can set bus fares, as has happened in London? Instead of always caving in to the private bus companies, why does the Minister not stand up for passengers for once?
Again, I do not accept the premise of the question. The Department for Transport has been championing the needs of bus passengers very firmly since this Government took office. We have introduced a whole range of new funding streams, as well as better bus areas, money for the smart card roll-out and the fourth round of the green bus fund. We have also made huge investments in bus corridors in Manchester, Bristol and elsewhere. This is all designed to help passengers, so I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s premise is simply wrong. In regard to better bus areas and quality contracts, I advise her to study the guidance that I issued earlier this week.