National Bus Strategy: England

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 5:15 pm, 15th March 2021

Let me start by thanking the Secretary of State for prior sight of his statement, and by welcoming both the tacit admission that decades of bus deregulation has failed and the long awaited publication of the national bus strategy for England, which the Prime Minister has billed as a revolution. The only problem is that revolutions are usually fairly quick affairs, whereas we have been waiting a year for this strategy and it might take another year for the various consultations to run their course.

Bus services are, of course, devolved, but as I have said many times in this place, the bus manufacturing sector is on its knees—hundreds of jobs have already gone. We are lucky to have three world-class bus manufacturing companies in Switch, Wrightbus and, in particular, Alexander Dennis, but we have yet to see a penny of the £3 billion committed last spring, and in the past 12 months almost no zero-emission buses have been delivered outside London or Scotland. Very shortly, there will be more zero-emission buses in the town of Kilmarnock than anywhere outside London. The Scottish Government have gone on with the job, with their Scottish ultra-low emission bus schemes, which are extremely popular with both operators and manufacturers. With those schemes having shown just how quickly domestic demand for new, green, British-built vehicles can be stimulated in the about six-month lead time for manufacturing, how will the Government ensure that their commitment to 4,000 green buses actually results in new vehicles being delivered this calendar year, not next year or the year after?

The Prime Minister spoke of getting young people on to buses, an aspiration shared by the Scottish Government, who have just committed to providing free bus transport to all under-22s as part of a plan to encourage lifelong public transport habits—that is action, not words. Will the Minister commit to a similar policy in England? Scotland has led the way in transport decarbonisation in the UK, but we must do more, so will he confirm that 100% of the funding provided for the strategy will be Barnettised? Will he put a precise figure and timescale on it?