Bus Services Bill [Lords]

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 1st March 2017.

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Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 5:19 pm, 1st March 2017

I should like to thank Madam Deputy Speaker for allowing me to pop out for 15 minutes to lobby for more funds for my schools. Let us hope it was worth while. It is a pleasure to follow Mary Creagh and to get an angle on the environmental impacts of the Bill. It is also a pleasure to follow Andy Burnham, and I wish him well with his forthcoming election campaign. I note that other candidates are available.

I do not wish to prolong the Manchester versus London debate, but it was noteworthy that we heard comparisons between London and Manchester during the Transport Committee evidence session on the Bill. I remember one of the partners from KPMG saying that there should not be a tendency to think that what works in London will work well in Manchester, and that there were differences between the two cities, not least the reduced subsidy in London and the lack of congestion charging in Manchester, which I believe Manchester will have to deal with. It was also pointed out that Manchester had a smaller market in that respect. That was an interesting debate, although I do not wish to encourage it to take place again here.

I want to talk about the three forms of organisation that deliver bus services to the country: partnerships, franchising and municipals. In so doing, I also want to welcome the Bill. I hope that it will shake up the system and deliver more innovation and more entrants into the bus market. It struck me and other members of the Committee that the big five bus operators deal with 70% of the market, and that when we asked them to give us examples of where they were competing with each other, as they had told us they did a great deal, they struggled to give any. Anything that shakes them through the system will be no bad thing.

I want to talk first about partnerships. Lilian Greenwood spoke highly of the Nottingham municipal, and I certainly would not wish to take away the awards that that company has won, but I would like to put in a plug for the Brighton & Hove bus company, which provides the service near me. I spent two happy hours in its depot talking to the team. It is a partnership and a private operator, and it has delivered 5% passenger growth year on year since 2003. It has been remarkably successful, working in partnership with its local authority. It already has a ticketing system in which it reimburses a competitor in the region; it already has that shared system. When I talked to members of the team about the benefits of audio-visual provision, they seemed a bit surprised because they already have it on their entire fleet. Their fleet is also incredibly green. I should like to advance that company as a good example of a partnership operator working incredibly well. I therefore welcome the extension of local transport authority powers beyond infrastructure and towards allowing authorities to market bus services and provide information and ticketing concepts. I believe that that will be a good move.