I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion. It is certainly an interesting one. I am not sure that any local transport authorities in the UK are currently looking at trolleybuses, although I have seen them operating effectively on the continent, including in Lille, where they are part of the transport network.
One issue on which Nottingham City Council showed great foresight and some bravery was the decision to retain its municipal bus company, of which I think there are now only eight left in England. I can confidently say that Nottingham City Transport, the municipal bus company, is the best bus company in the UK, as it has won the UK Bus Awards’ coveted “Bus Operator of the Year” award in three of the last five years and topped the 2015 bus passenger satisfaction survey with 97% satisfaction. It has consistently invested in high-quality, cleaner, greener, new buses that are accessible for wheelchair users and parents with buggies, have audio-visual announcements, are equipped with wi-fi and are driven by well-trained staff.
We are fortunate in Nottingham that NCT is not the only excellent local operator. Trentbarton, a local private sector operator, has also invested in a high-quality fleet, shown a genuine commitment to serving passengers, been innovative in growing patronage and has similarly high satisfaction scores.
Nottingham’s public transport system is an example of what can be achieved through good partnership working between the local authority and local operators, but it is not perfect. The use of the Oyster card revolutionised travel in London, particularly by enabling passengers to move seamlessly between different modes and operators, but it proved difficult to introduce a similar successful multi-operator smartcard in Nottingham. Passengers still face a confusing range of fare options, and there are two different multi-operator/multi-modal smartcards, which give rise to different fares and cannot be used on all buses and trams in the city.
Partnerships can deliver real improvements, but they also have limits, and even the enhanced partnerships envisaged in the Bill rely on operators’ agreement, which can be difficult to achieve. Local transport authorities cannot always ensure that the best interests of passengers are served without access to the full range of options in their toolkit, and I find it hard to understand the Government’s justification for denying the vast majority of local transport authorities the opportunity to use franchising powers. I was equally disappointed by the Secretary of State’s explanation for reintroducing the ban on local authorities setting up municipal bus operators. While I do not believe it would be widely used, the Government’s opposition seems to be based on purely ideological grounds. First he seemed to argue that it would undermine competition but presented no evidence to support his assertion, and then he admitted that he simply did not want to allow Labour local authorities to act in the best interests of their residents—so much for localism.
Bus services are essential: they link people to jobs, training and education opportunities; support local businesses; combat isolation, particularly among the young and the old, disabled people and those who do not have access to a car; and cut congestion. New cleaner, greener buses can also improve air quality and contribute to our climate change obligations. It will be very disappointing if the Government now seek to remove the changes made in the other place. I hope that Ministers will think again and finally give our transport authorities the full range of options they need to put passengers first and ensure that they have access to bus services wherever they live.