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 absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps for too long we have had the same players serving the same routes, and I think that the system needs shaking up. I believe that the Bill will do just that.

I was slightly concerned by attempts in the other place to make the powers that could be brought in through advanced quality partnerships a prescriptive matter. If we make it prescriptive, there is a danger that we will take the innovation out of local transport authorities. Indeed, if no further funds are going to those authorities, telling them how they should operate seems to be contrary to the kind of innovation that we are trying to put in place. Equally, while I welcome the consultation that will be required by local authorities for advanced quality partnerships, there is a danger that this requirement could place too heavy a burden on the authorities, resulting in nothing at all occurring. That certainly applies to consultation of a bus operator’s employees, which made no sense to me from a local authority perspective.

I also welcome the introduction of enhanced partnerships, which are a bit of a halfway house between advanced quality partnerships and franchising. They cover a wider geographic service area but have powers over timetabling and frequency and can set improvement objectives and analyse performance. The drawback in the Bill as it stands is that the introduction of an enhanced partnership requires a sufficient number of bus operators in the scheme not to object. Such a veto may mean that enhanced partnerships are unlikely to occur at all. Perhaps we need more checks and balances for bus operators, rather than giving them the power of veto. If I have misunderstood that, I would welcome a clarification.

Moving on to franchising, I was struck that the powers are limited to mayoral combined authorities, but it was noted somewhere in the policy documentation that they were deemed to be sufficiently democratically accountable. That may be a concern for my constituents in East Sussex, who are going to the polls in May and would hope that the council is democratically accountable. However, I take the point that our current system of county councils and district councils does not have the same clarity of power making and accountability as a mayoral combined authority.