– in the House of Commons at 1:12 pm on 17th May 2023.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that bus travel remains accessible and affordable for everyone, while bearing down on the cost of living.
Let me start by summarising the situation as we find it. People across the country are facing massive cost of living pressures following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. That is why we have a commitment to halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people greater financial security. For the bus sector, that comes on the back of a global pandemic that saw passenger numbers drop to as low as 10% of their pre-pandemic levels. However, bus journeys are now recovering to around 90% of their pre-pandemic levels outside of London. Taking the bus remains the most popular form of public transport, and millions of people rely on these vital services every day.
Local bus networks provide great access to work, education and medical appointments, driving economic growth across the country. They can be a lifeline for those for whom travelling by car or other forms of public transport is simply not possible. That is why over the past three years we have invested more than £3 billion to support and improve bus services in England outside of London. That level of investment was a sign of the times, but today, we need to move out from underneath the shadow of covid-19, where the sudden absence of passengers made it necessary for the Government to step in, first through the covid-19 bus service support grant, and later through the bus recovery grant.
We face a challenge to return the network to its pre-pandemic footing while confronting fundamental changes to travel patterns, but buses remain a critical part of our transport infrastructure for many people, especially outside London in suburban and rural areas. Billions in Government funding has been made available to keep fares down and to keep services up and running. Bus routes have been kept alive where they may have proven so uneconomic that they risked being scrapped altogether. Without them, whole communities would have lost out, risking people becoming totally disconnected, especially older and more vulnerable people. While we have seen overall patronage recover to around 90% of pre-pandemic levels, concessionary fares continue to lag significantly behind. We recognise that we can maximise opportunities to bring concessionary passengers back to the bus, and I will return to that point later.
Supporting bus services at their lowest ebb was the right thing to do. However, if the public purse alone props up bus services, that would not be a funding model; it would just be a failing business. It is not the business of this Government to allow our buses to fail. We must reform bus funding in the long term, and we will work with the sector to better understand the impact before moving ahead with any implementation. We must adapt to new levels of patronage, acknowledge that there are extremely challenging financial circumstances and balance the needs of taxpayers, the travelling public, operators and local authorities. All parts of the sector have their role to play.
The Government will play our part. Today, I can announce a long-term approach to protect bus services, keep travel affordable and support the bus sector’s long-term recovery. I can announce that the Government will provide: an additional £300 million over the next two years to protect vital routes until April 2025; £150 million between June 2023 and April 2024; and, another £150 million between April 2024 and April 2025.
Some £160 million of that funding will be earmarked for local transport authorities through the new bus service improvement plan plus—a mechanism to improve bus services while empowering local authorities to make the call on how services are planned and delivered. It comes in addition to the existing £1 billion of funding through the national bus strategy that has already been allocated. BSIP+ will be focused on communities that did not previously benefit from BSIP allocations. In addition, a further £140 million will be provided to operators through the bus service operators grant plus mechanism, supporting them with the services they run.
This package means that passengers can continue to rely on their local bus to get around. Alongside it, we will consult with operators and local authorities on measures to modernise and futureproof bus funding for the long term. This is part of the Government’s vision to improve connectivity through the bus services that this country relies upon. This funding and our bus vision will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunities in every part of the country.
At a time when the cost of living is a challenge for many, we also recognise that price is a key barrier to growth. The more affordable travel is, the more likely passengers are to get on board. We understand that every penny counts. The Government stepped up during the pandemic with support for businesses and their workers with low-cost loans and, most vitally, the furlough scheme. Following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the knock-on inflation caused by the energy price shock, we again stepped up. We have delivered an energy package of more than £90 billion, literally paying half the energy bills of households across the country, with extra support for the most vulnerable. We will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living pressures and give people financial security. We will grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country.
In transport, we also understand the pressures placed on people’s finances. That is why we cut fuel duty by 5p a litre, kept train fare rises significantly below inflation and introduced the “Get Around for £2” bus scheme nationwide and provided the funding for local authorities in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and elsewhere to do the same. The nationwide scheme was initially for three months until
Since the £2 cap was introduced, it has saved passengers millions of pounds, boosted businesses and put bums on bus seats across the country. This decision builds on the Government’s help for households initiative and supports everyone through the cost of living increases, especially those on the lowest incomes, who take nearly three times as many bus trips as those on higher incomes. It puts money back into people’s pockets and keeps them connected to key local services. It encourages millions of passengers to get back on the bus by knocking close to a third off the average single fare, and more for longer journeys. Taking that forward, my officials will work with the sector to confirm operators’ participation in the scheme. We will also undertake a review of bus fares at the end of November 2024 to support the sector in moving to a sustainable, long-term footing.
In conclusion, what I have shared with the House today is part of the largest Government investment in bus services for a generation. It exceeds our bus back better commitments by half a billion pounds, providing certainty to industry, securing value for taxpayers, protecting access to vital public services, delivering our priority to grow the economy, and helping people with the cost of living. All the while, we will work with the sector to reform bus funding in the long term. We will work towards affordable and reliable bus services for everyone, everywhere, all at once. That is what the travelling public deserves, and that is this Government’s ambition. I commend this statement to the House.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
Our bus services are in crisis. Bus users across the country listening to the statement today—waiting for a bus that never turns up and robbed of a service they depend on—will be wondering, frankly, whether the Minister is oblivious or in denial, and whether he understands the scale of the Government’s failure, even on their own terms. His party made promises that voters were entitled to think would be kept.
Two years ago, in the middle of the pandemic and when its effects were well known, the Conservatives launched their bus back better strategy. With great fanfare, they pledged a great bus service for everyone, everywhere. They promised it would be one of the great acts of levelling up. They pledged buses so frequent that people would not need a timetable. They said the Government would
“not only stop the decline”— in bus services, but
“reverse it”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 691, c. 50.]
Those promises made long after the effects of Covid were clear, and what has happened since? Last year, services fell by the second fastest level on record. Today, there are fewer buses on the road than at any time on record. Of the 4,000 zero-emission buses the Minister’s party promised, just six are on the road. Can that really be what the Prime Minister means by “delivery, delivery, delivery”? For bus passengers across the country, it sounds like “failure, failure, failure.” They are counting the cost of a party that simply has not kept its word and of 13 years of Conservative failure. In that time, 7,000 bus services have been axed. Those services were indispensable for connecting people to jobs, opportunities, friends and family. These lost connections have held back our economic growth, worsened our community life, and deepened our productivity problem. The Government promised transformation, but they have delivered a spiral of managed decline. Today’s announcement does nothing to stop that.
The funding announced to “support services” until 2025 is actually a significant cut—23% less than previous rounds of recovery funding and far short of what the operators have said is needed simply to maintain services. The consequence—whether or not the Minister will admit it—will be hundreds more services on the scrap heap. Even on the Government’s own terms, that is yet another extraordinary failure.
The Minister cannot hide from the reality with which so many people are living day to day. A woman in Hampshire told me she has to leave home three hours early for her hospital appointments to ensure she is there on time. There are students in Stoke who do not go into their town centre any more, because the bus back finishes at 7 pm. There are kids in Burnley who no longer have a school bus. What does the Minister have to say to them? Does he think their situation is acceptable after 13 years of Conservative Government? What hope does he have to offer them? This announcement shows that he is content simply to tinker around the edges of the broken bus system, to leave intact a system that gives local people no say whatsoever over the services they depend on, and to leave this country as one of the only in the developed world that hands operators unchecked power to slash routes and raise fares, with the people those decisions affect cut out altogether.
For years, communities have demanded that we fix the situation, and Labour will. Our plans will put communities firmly back in control of the public transport they depend upon. We will give every community the power to take control over routes, fares and services, and we will lower the unnecessary legislative hurdles that the Tories have put in their way. We will back the evidence showing that areas with local control and public ownership deliver greater efficiency, increased passengers and better services. Bold reform is needed, and 13 years into this Conservative Government, bus services are locked in a spiral of decline that communities are powerless to stop.
Today’s announcement shows that the Conservatives’ answer to this failing status quo is more of the same. After more than a decade of broken promises, the public will once again rightly conclude that the Conservatives cannot fix the problem, because the Conservatives are the problem.
It was delightful to hear the shadow Secretary of State’s prepared attack lines, because I do not think she actually listened to the statement. We are exceeding the bus back better commitment by £500 million. I note that the hon. Lady did not mention the fact that Sheffield city region is getting £3.15 million today—[Interruption.] If the hon. Lady would let me speak, rather than shout at me from a sedentary position, she might actually learn something. Stoke, which she mentioned, has already had £31.6 million in BSIP funding. Hampshire, which she also mentioned, is also getting £3.6 million today.
The hon. Lady talked about her plan for the devolution of powers, but we have already done that. She does not seem to be paying any attention to what is happening in her own area of South Yorkshire, which has received £570 million. Greater Manchester is receiving over £1 billion over five years. That was never delivered by Labour in government, but delivered by this Conservative party right across the country. There are sustainable transport schemes and city region sustainable transport settlements—all delivered with money from this Government—[Interruption.] She shouts that this is about Labour Mayors, but we have done deals with Conservative Mayors and Labour Mayors. I do not care about party politics; I want to deliver for bus users right across this country.
That is different from the ideological approach taken by the hon. Lady, who seems to think that if everything was under total state control, everything would be better. We know from the past that that is not true. We want to deliver for people up and down the country. That is why we are extending the £2 bus fare, delivering for people on the lowest incomes right across the country. I know that the hon. Lady is in the pocket of the train drivers’ unions, but I suggest that she stand up for working people right across the country, the majority of whom use bus services.
Today, we are delivering £500 million of extra support and for an extra two years, not only for the cost of living, but for bus services right across the country. I think the hon. Lady would do well to follow our example and think of the long term, rather than ideological and political attacks.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport.
I warmly welcome this announcement, not least because the Minister has taken on board the recommendations made in the Transport Committee’s March report on the national bus strategy. It is right to focus on the necessary longer-term reforms, and I particularly welcome the intervention on BSIPs, which the Committee found were a mixed bag across the country. Some are working very well, but other authorities were not able to deliver a good plan. Will the Minister assure me that his officials will work with local authorities to design good new bus strategies for the areas that do not have one?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for his question. He is absolutely right to point to bus service improvement plan funding as part of the package. We pledge to work with those local authorities, and will continue to do on delivering enhanced partnerships or franchising, depending on what they would like. My hon. Friend’s area of Milton Keynes will be getting £654,000 this year from the bus service improvement plan, which can go towards delivering the local services that are most under threat and protecting them for the future. The area will also benefit from the “Get Around for £2” scheme extension, and the £2.50 fare extension. Beyond that, on top of the money going directly to local authorities—not mentioned by Louise Haigh—local operators across the country will be provided with money this year and next, including franchise operators in places such as Greater Manchester.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
In principle, I welcome today’s announcement on fares by the Government. Anything that helps to make bus travel more attractive and drives modal shift is to be welcomed. [Interruption.] Just wait—there’s more!
In Scotland, we have taken a different approach, and extended free bus travel to include every Scottish resident under the age of 22. The feedback thus far is that we are seeing a big increase in travel among those groups, getting them in the habit of taking the bus and normalising public transport. However, when it comes to real investment and spending on bus infrastructure, I am afraid the DFT is still lagging well behind. Of the 3,500 buses farcically claimed by the UK Government as helping meet their target of 4,000 zero-emission buses for England outside London, nearly a fifth are funded by the Scottish Government, over whom the Minister has zero jurisdiction. He is using the success of the Scottish Government and others to cover for their own failure.
Incidentally, four weeks ago the Secretary of State promised the House that he place a letter in the Library setting out the details of the pledge and of delivery thus far, but we are yet to see that letter placed in the Library.
In Scotland, ScotZEB 2—the Scottish zero-emission bus challenge fund 2—was announced just this week, providing another £58 million to further enhance and improve bus services across the country, including in my own constituency. This will bring Scotland’s zero-emission bus fleet up to about the equivalent of 8,000 buses in England. In contrast, of the 1,342 buses in England outside London claimed as funded under the ZEBRA—zero-emission bus regional areas—scheme, only six are on the road. If I looked out of the window of my constituency office in Renfrew, in 15 minutes I would see more zero-emission buses passing by, serving passengers and contributing to the net zero transition, than are actually on the road through this Government’s ZEBRA scheme.
Will the Minister do the right thing, unlock the logjam in the ZEBRA scheme in England and at least try to catch up with its success in Scotland, and will he confirm that every penny spent as a result of this announcement will be subject to Barnett consequentials to allow the Scottish Government to continue their investment in our public transport network—investment that builds for an electric future?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks, and I will address some of his later ones. On the Barnett consequentials—just to start off with that—all this money has been found within the Department for Transport. We are cutting our cloth without asking for more cash from taxpayers, which is exactly what we need to be doing in this situation.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman concentrated on talking about the ZEBRA scheme, which is not really the topic of today’s statement. It is interesting that he did not mention anything else because the Scottish national party is obviously not matching our £2 bus fare right across Scotland, which is quite a surprise. [Interruption.] Only people under the age of 22, the hon. Gentleman shouts at me, have free bus travel. People do not have that in Scotland; actually, it has no £2 fare cap at all. That is something we are delivering this year and will be continuing to deliver next year here in England.
In fact, one of the major bus operators spoke recently about the crisis of buses in Scotland due to the Scottish Government’s
“mix of ill-informed emotion and political dogma”,
while failing to help them meet the needs of reliant Scots—
The hon. Gentleman can look it up online. I can understand why he would want to ask questions of us, but I think he needs to ensure that the Scottish Government get their own house in order first.
Today’s announcement is welcome, especially given that in my own constituency we have seen a vital rural route—the 155—withdrawn, removing connectivity and unfortunately increasing loneliness, particularly among the older population. There is another route—the 638—which is a school service, that is under threat, causing great angst for those who use it. The extra funding for Kent and Medway is appreciated, but could the Minister confirm when he expects the money to be allocated in order for the local authorities in Kent and Medway to plan ahead for the next academic year and save the 638 from being scrapped?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is indeed right that Kent and Medway will be getting extra support. In Medway, that amounts to over three quarters of a million pounds. Across Kent, on top of the almost £19 million it has already had from its first BSIP, the council will be getting an extra £2.3 million as a result of this announcement. On top of that, she will also see local bus operators receiving similar amounts of money, so she will see multiple millions of pounds for her local bus services. On when the cash will get paid, I will write to her directly. It will come in tranches at different stages, and I will happily lay that out in a letter to her. However, she can reassure her constituents that money is available and that cash is coming in, and that the local council as well as local operators will be able to use that money to fund the vital local services she mentioned.
I look forward to discussing these issues in much more detail in my Adjournment debate on Government funding for local bus services this evening. The Minister will know, because we have neighbouring constituencies, how important bus services are to our constituencies and how absolutely essential it is to keep them, and he must know that this money will not be sufficient to maintain those services. This morning, the Minister claimed he was not going to pretend he can save every bus route. Can he confirm how many bus services he is willing to lose?
I would like to thank the hon. Lady for her question, and we will be able to go into this in greater detail later. As she knows, hers was the first ever Adjournment debate I did, and I am looking forward to doing one with her again tonight. [Interruption.] Well, what has changed, despite the comments of the shadow Secretary of State, is that the north-east has already received £117 million of its £163 million of BSIP funding, and in addition it will also be benefiting today. I spoke to the leader of the hon. Lady’s council, Councillor Gannon, earlier today, before I came to the House, and talked him through the BSIP funding for the future. I would say that we obviously cannot protect every route—some routes will need to change—but the funding being delivered today will be hugely important to her and my constituents. Gateshead has had the levelling-up fund bid for more than 50 electric buses, with £100 million already and more to come with the bus service improvement plan across the north-east. Only last week, £1 bus fares were rolled out across the north-east for under-22s, thanks to the funding from the Government. That was never delivered under the last Labour Government, and I would have thought she would welcome more cash being available.
I very much welcome the much-needed investment in buses. As the Minister has said, we have developed excellent plans to improve bus services, supported by the £31 million that the Government have committed to improve bus services in Stoke-on-Trent. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that Stoke-on-Trent City Council now gets on and delivers on these plans?
I thank my hon. Friend, who raises a vital point. Some £31.6 million—one of the highest per capita amounts anywhere in the country—was given to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which now needs to deliver on its plans. My Department stands ready and willing to work with it, including on any flexibilities, as it sees the situation change. His constituents will also benefit from the £2 bus fare cap this year and the £2.50 bus cap next year, and his operators will benefit from the extra financial support over the next two years, providing long-term sustainability for those local bus services.
The Minister will know that the real lived experience in constituencies such as mine is of buses being cancelled, buses not turning up and providers such as Arriva giving very short notice—not only to me as an MP, but to neighbouring MPs—about closing bus depots, and then going cap in hand to other providers such as D&G. There is now a legal dispute over TUPE between Unite and that provider. Other than illustrating the reality on the ground, the question I want to ask is: as Cheshire West and Chester have had no bus service improvement plan investment before, will it be a beneficiary this time around?
As I said in my statement, every area that did not get bus service improvement plan money will be getting it this time, including both Cheshire East Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council. That will amount to more than £2.4 million—almost £2.5 million—for those local authorities to help them with bus services. On top of that, the local bus service operators will be getting BSOG plus, which will help them with route maintenance and expansion, if they feel they can do that. This is really good news for the hon. Member’s area, with the Conservatives delivering for the people of Cheshire.
Staying with the theme of Cheshire, may I welcome the £2.4 million announced today to support improvement plans for bus services across Cheshire? There have been issues locally, and that will go a long way to help plug those gaps. Does the Minister agree that this is an opportunity to consider how we start to evolve those bus services so that they meet the needs and demands of our whole population, including in rural areas? In particular, demand-responsive services are a way of trying to ensure that we have a bus network that delivers for people living in places such as Cheshire.
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. We need to look at the needs of buses, and the needs of the communities he serves, particularly rural communities. When bus service improvement plans were brought forward they went to specific areas, but they also ensured that somebody within the Department for Transport was working with local authorities in those areas to ensure a viable plan. I am obviously happy to continue to work with my hon. and learned Friend, especially with the extra money allocated, potentially to consider further interesting and innovative schemes, such as the demand-responsive buses he mentioned.
The Liberal Democrats welcome the extension of the bus fare cap, but it will not resolve the fundamental issues. Between 2021 and 2022, 1,100 bus services were cut, including 51 in the south-west, which will badly affect residents in my Bath constituency. Will the Minister remove the ban on local authorities running their own bus services, and give councils more powers over local bus services for local people?
We are always prepared to consider different proposals, and I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments about extending the £2 bus fare across England. It is great to get Opposition support for that. I would also point to some of the positives that are happening across the West of England Combined Authority area, such as the £570 million of long-term funding to help improve services. There have been huge upgrades there, and coming over the next few years. A recent £7 million package of improvements in Bath means that buses run every 15 minutes, but we are always happy to look at further developments in the future.
May I put on record my thanks for the £47 million that Derbyshire has already been given for bus services? Will my hon. Friend explain a little more about the benefits of how that £47 million will be used, particularly in South Derbyshire?
I thank my hon. Friend. She is right to say that Derbyshire was one council area that got a significant amount of funding in the initial bus service improvement plan allocations. That will be used to help improve bus services, and I reassure her that that funding is flexible and able to meet needs as they change following the pandemic, and changing patterns of travel. I also reassure her that in addition to that money, all her constituents will benefit from the extension to the £2 fare cap, and the £2.50 fare cap. Bus operators across her constituency will also benefit from the BSOG.
I welcome any increase in funding, however inadequate. The Minister mentioned Ukraine and covid—of course he has—but the reality in South Yorkshire is that bus journeys have fallen by 50% since this Government came to power in 2010. Given the great promises made by the previous Prime Minister but one about the expansion in bus services that we would see, and given that the Minister will have done an impact assessment on the proposals, will he tell us by what percentage bus journeys are expected to rise by April 2025; or will the measures simply slow the decline that has been taking place for the past 13 years?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman welcomed the more than £3 million extra, on top of the £570 million we have already awarded to the city region, the major £44 million regeneration for South Yorkshire’s transport system that we announced, the £16 million for a planned fleet of electric buses for Sheffield and South Yorkshire, and the £8.4 million of ZEBRA funding. With a Labour Mayor running his city region, he will know that it is up to local authority leaders, including an elected leader in his area, to decide exactly how they allocate the money and what they want to do. In South Yorkshire car ownership has risen over recent years, and how that is managed is up to local leaders to determine. We are providing the funding, and it is up to local leaders to decide what they do with it.
Investing in bus services and protecting routes is obviously a priority for the UK Government, who have that responsibility here in England. That contrasts significantly with the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay, who are cutting grants to bus operating companies. The consequence is that in my constituency pupils cannot get to school, pensioners cannot get to town centres, and people in rural communities are isolated in their own homes. Will the Minister join me in campaigning to challenge the Welsh Government to follow what the UK Government are doing in England, so that my constituents are not exposed in the way they are?
My right hon. Friend will know that there is currently a total cliff edge in Wales on
A cap on fares is not much use if a bus does not turn up. The Minister even stated on his social media this week that people in County Durham need access to a car or a van to get around. Does he believe that he is improving bus service reliability if providers are slashing routes and services?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for her interest in my local social media posts. This Government, unlike the previous Labour Government, have already provided £117.8 million in bus service improvement plan allocations. I do not know whether she noticed the response I gave to Liz Twist, but earlier today I spoke to Councillor Gannon, who runs the North East Combined Authority’s transport scheme, and he welcomed what we are doing. On top of that there is more money to come, and the £2 bus scheme announced today. But it is not all about that; this is about protecting local services. I am sure that when she—[Interruption.] When the hon. Lady looks at the amount of money—[Interruption.] She has called me far worse in the past on the House of Commons terrace, as we all know, and I thank her for her unreserved apology for that at the time. We are putting in investment that the Labour party never did, and when she looks at the moneys going into Go North East and Arriva North East over the next few weeks, she will see how much they are getting and how that should benefit local users across the great county of Durham.
I welcome today’s announcement. As has been said, bus access is fundamental for many of my constituents across a large rural area, and the BSIP that is coming through, and getting around for £1 for the under-21s, is fabulous. As the Minister knows, we have an issue with service levels—he has been working with me to see what we can do. A survey has just gone out in Trimdon that suggests that accessibility is a much bigger issue than cost. Will the Minister continue to work with me to try to find better solutions and different ways of doing this, to get people the access to leisure or work that they deserve?
My hon. Friend is right about accessibility, and I am fully aware of the issues he has raises with Trimdon. On accessibility more broadly, he should be reassured that with audio-visual alerts on buses we really are rolling out those upgrades right across the country to make buses more accessible to as many people as practically possible. He is fully aware of the £163 million pledged to the north-east for the bus service improvement plan, and I am looking forward to working with him, particularly on the cash allocated to County Durham, to see how we can ensure that, in particular, those delisted rural former pit villages really get the services that they need so that opportunity is spread across our beautiful constituencies.
The reality, though, is that taxpayers today are paying much more than they have ever done for a smaller bus network. That is because bus operators have been allowed to play a failing system for far too long. I will give the Minister an example. The 375, which once ran in my constituency between Stockport and Ashton, was a marginally profit-making service operated by Stagecoach Manchester, but it played the system by splitting the route into two non-profit-making services and asked the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, as it was, for not one but two public subsidies. That, in the end, is what happened to save that service. When will he finally get to grips with the bus operators who play the system?
The hon. Member will be fully aware that this Conservative Government have already allocated £94.8 million to Greater Manchester through the bus service improvement plans, on top of £1 billion to Greater Manchester for the city region sustainable transport settlement. On how buses are operated, he will be fully aware of the desire of the Mayor of Greater Manchester to go to a franchising model, which the Government have allowed and are supportive of. I look forward to working with him and any other local authorities that wish to move in that direction. What I will say, however, is that franchising services means that local taxpayers end up carrying a much greater portion of fare box risk. People need to be able to justify that to their local taxpayers.
Extending the £2 cap is welcome. Does my hon. Friend agree that as well as price, frequency of service is vital and that, thanks to the £50 million granted to Norfolk County Council, there are now more buses going to Castle Rising, Grimston and other parts of North West Norfolk? There is also a travel hub coming to Hunstanton, and there will also be new bus lanes.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning Norfolk. It was wonderful recently to visit his fantastic constituency as well as that of my neighbour, my hon. Friend Duncan Baker, to see some of the improvements happening in terms of bus funding. I have said to all councils that, if flexibility is needed from their initial BSIPs, we are always willing to look at that. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising Norfolk, where there has been a really proactive county council driving forward bus service improvements as well as improving its road network, which is another issue that I know he cares deeply about.
The key thing is that we have provided tens of millions of pounds a year for the next few years for bus service operators right across the country. While the Opposition bang on with their ideological battles about who owns the services, I am interested in getting services delivered for the people. Already across the West of England Combined Authority area, £105.5 million has been made available as part of the Government’s plan to deliver bus service improvements. I have already said to the hon. Member, as I have said to all the Metro Mayors I have managed to speak to today, that I am willing to look at their bus service improvement plans and to be flexible with them if they want to change how they are operating things.
I thank the Minister for his statement and for coming to visit us in Cornwall earlier in the year. Bus users in Cornwall are saving £5 million in a given year thanks to the scheme, and sales are actually up, contrary to what we have heard from Opposition Members. The users are a mix of tourists and locals, with the scheme helping them get back into work as well as stopping loneliness and isolation. It is helping businesses as well. Will he join me in thanking all officers at Cornwall Council who are involved in making this a great success, along with our transport lead, Connor Donnithorne, and the bus operators? It is going very well in Cornwall.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning Cornwall. I had a fantastic visit there with her recently to see “Love the bus” and services locally. Cornwall Council has done exceptionally well with its initial £13.5 million bus service improvement plan and it will be getting just under another £2 million as part of this extra allocation. Cornwall is a great example of enhanced partnerships working really well to deliver for people, with more bus users and the £2 bus fare saving millions of pounds for local residents and tourists who visit Cornwall every year. I urge Opposition Members to look at Cornwall as a good example of where enhanced partnerships can really work to deliver for people and local businesses. This is not an ideological approach but one based on delivering for local people.
In our north-west region, bus services have been cut by nearly 16%. It is not just about the funding amounts that the Minister is reading out; it is about the structures, as my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne said. Nowhere else in the developed world do bus operators have so much power over routes and services. In my constituency, that has meant cuts to the point where some constituents cannot even use a bus to get to Salford Royal Hospital or to use other vital services. In Greater Manchester, we are fixing that, but does the Minister agree that only Labour’s plans would give all our communities the control that they need to hold bus operators to account?
My understanding is that there is no plan for more money from Labour, and there was no plan for more money for buses today from Labour. That is just like what we see in Labour-run Wales, with no plan for the future. In fact, it is particularly interesting that the Leader of the Opposition recently stated that Labour-run Wales is a model for the Labour Government. What we see here is a Conservative Government actually delivering for people across the country.
The hon. Lady talks about powers. I am happy to work with the increasing devolution across the country, as I have done with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, which has had more than £1.07 billion in city region sustainable transport settlement funding, £94.8 million from the BSIP and more than £200 million for Transport for Greater Manchester and the commercial bus operators. I have said that I do not mind the model; she is obsessed with it.
I thank the Minister for his excellent and overwhelmingly positive statement, which will be welcomed by many, in contrast with Opposition Members’ doom, gloom and what appears to be uncosted nationalisation. Will he confirm that, without the cap, some single bus fares could have risen to about £6 each, as opposed to £2 thanks to the cap, and that that will benefit people who live in rural and remote areas such as mine in Nottinghamshire?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right. In Labour-run Wales and SNP-run Scotland, bus fares are uncapped. In England they are now capped at £2. I point out that on top of £18.7 million of BSIP funding, Nottinghamshire County Council will receive another £1.2 million directly. On top of that, further money will be going to his bus operators locally to enable them to provide and enhance local services.
Will today’s announcement mean more buses in Barnsley?
That is up to the Mayor of South Yorkshire and his decisions.
I welcome the announcement. The Minister is right that there is a cliff edge, and operators such as Llew Jones in my constituency can only look on in envy at the levels of support being offered. We face a cliff edge in Wales. In particular, it is estimated that some 15% of routes are at risk of closure. The T19, which joined communities in Llandudno, Dolwyddelan and Llanrwst along the Conwy valley and beyond, closed in February, and that has disrupted lives along the valley ever since. Will he join me in pressing the Welsh Government? Given their generous settlement of £1.20 for every £1 given in England, does he agree that there is space for them to find funding from within their transport budget to support such routes?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In England we have found money for buses from within our budgets, so I definitely encourage other parts of the United Kingdom to do the same. In Wales we have sadly seen a far too ideological approach, including changing speed limits across the country at an estimated cost of £32.5 million in implementation alone and potentially with major economic costs knocking on. The 15% that he mentioned in Wales is on top of what has already been lost. Wales cannot be a model for the future, and the Welsh Government really should look to the support that we are providing in England, including those lower-cost fares for young people, to deliver for people across the country.
When I speak to the metro Mayor of the West of England about the need to reinstate some of the bus services we have lost in recent years—bus services that might not be commercially viable, but are incredibly important for the people who rely on them to get to school, work, hospital and so on—he tells me that one of the problems is that often the money he is given is ringfenced or specified for particular purposes and he is not free to make decisions on how it is spent. Can the Minister assure me that, with the money going to the West of England Combined Authority today, I can go to the metro Mayor and say, “Please spend this on the buses in my constituency,” and he will be free to do so?
The £2 scheme is England-wide, so that has been allocated by central Government. The cash going to local bus service operators—the bus service operators grant—is there for them to support their services. More broadly, the West of England Combined Authority has had £105.5 million. That is what it bid for, and it chose the schemes it wanted to do. I am prepared to ensure that there is maximum flexibility to preserve and enhance bus routes wherever possible. If the metro Mayor would like to speak to me further—I tried to call him today; he sent me a message to say that perhaps we would speak later—I would be very happy to speak to him about that and to have my civil servants work with him.
I welcome the Government’s announcement today on the extension to the £2 capped fare. The Minister very kindly visited Warrington earlier this year. He saw the transformation of the new bus depot on Dallam Lane, which was paid for in part by the town deal. However, 18 months ago Warrington Borough Council was given more than £20 million to acquire a new fleet of zero-emission buses. The Labour council is still to place an order for those buses. May I urge the Minister to use his office to put a rocket up the exhaust pipe of Warrington Borough Council and get those buses ordered?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and the charming way in which he put it. I was delighted to visit Warrington with him recently, and I will continue to work with him to press the local council to get on with the job and deliver for the people of Warrington, just like he does every day.
Council-owned bus companies such as Reading Buses provide award-winning services. That has allowed it to grow its business and offer a very high quality of service to many local residents. For example, our No. 17 bus route has a bus every seven minutes and we also have night buses. When will the Minister agree to allow more local councils to run their own bus companies, and when will he agree to more franchising?
The hon. Gentleman asks about franchising. As I have said, I am not ideological about that, unlike Louise Haigh. My hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory mentioned her fantastic bus network in Cornwall, which is run by an enhanced partnership. I understand that it is quite difficult for the Labour party not to be ideological about these things. What I would say is this: do what works for your area, just like we are doing in the north-east of England, where we are working with local operators to deliver for local people.
I welcome this extensive set of measures to improve buses across the country, and I thank my hon. Friend for visiting Watford recently to talk about the challenges in my area. Does he agree with my recent ten-minute rule Bill on ensuring that bus users everywhere are consulted when timetable changes are planned so that they have their voices heard? Even if we do not legislate on that, will he encourage all operators to follow that process?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I was delighted to visit Watford with him recently. I reassure him that on top of the £29.7 million that is going to Hertfordshire more broadly, there will be another £1.5 million of funding for the council following today’s announcement and, on top of that, the bus operators will be getting money to support local services. I encourage them to use the enhanced partnership money as an opportunity to work even more closely with local authorities to ensure that bus service users get to know first about any proposed changes.
I welcome the Minister’s statement, in particular his acknowledgement that in rural areas bus services are an essential lifeline for people who do not have access to a car. Unfortunately, in North Shropshire over the last 18 months we have seen bus services cut at the beginning and the end of the day, as well as reductions in frequency. Part of the reason for that is the low amount paid by Shropshire Council for concessionary fares. Will the Minister outline how local councils can be supported to increase the level of concessionary fares, so they are more evenly allocated across England? Will he outline in detail how my constituents will see an improvement in their bus service, rather than a further deterioration?
I visited the hon. Lady’s constituency just before she was an MP and I am sure I will be doing so again. The £2 bus fare is operating right across the country. On top of that, we have concessionary fares for retired and disabled people. Those are there across the piece. Bus operators in Shropshire will be getting significantly more money. Shropshire Council did not get the initial round of BSOG funding, but I am delighted to let her know today that it will be getting £1.5 million to support local bus services. I hope she will use her offices to ensure that that is spent on local people so that they get the services they deserve.
I welcome the content of my hon. Friend’s statement, with the extension of the £2 fare and the news of additional funding for Darlington and the wider Tees Valley. Will the Minister join me in applying some pressure on Arriva North East, which operates the majority of services in Darlington, to further improve the reliability of essential routes and service punctuality?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Again, it was a delight for me to visit his constituency. In fact, I visit it quite regularly on the way up to my constituency. He is quite right. I spoke to the Mayor of Tees Valley Combined Authority today. He was delighted with the £1.53 million extra that will be coming this year as part of the new BSOG allocation for Tees Valley, and he wants to work with local operators to see where it can be best used to support local bus services. On top of that, Arriva North East will be getting a funding settlement. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and other colleagues to ensure that that cash supports not just current bus services but potential new ones in the right places.
Bus services in Stoke-on-Trent have halved since 2009-10, in large part due to covid, as has been reported by Richard Price, the local democracy reporter for The Sentinel. Of course, another challenge we face is that First Bus in particular has been doing a bad job of delivering good routes and reliability, which has meant that passenger confidence has plummeted across Stoke-on-Trent. We are grateful for the £31.5 million that has come in through the bus service improvement plan. What we now need is for the Minister to come to Stoke-on-Trent—he seems to have toured everywhere else across the United Kingdom—to put pressure on Stoke-on-Trent City Council to deliver on the plans the Government have funded and hold a summit to talk about creating a north Staffordshire transport authority to better connect places like Kidsgrove and Talke to the great city of Stoke-on-Trent.
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the cash that is there and ready to go in Stoke-on-Trent for bus service improvement. I would be delighted to visit him and to speak with the council. On my recent visit to Stoke-on-Trent, I visited Stoke-on-Trent Central rather than Stoke-on-Trent North, but I will remedy that at the earliest possible opportunity.
I thank the Minister for his excellent statement and all the measures contained therein, in particular the £2 fare cap, which many of my Dudley constituents will benefit from, just as they will benefit from the new transport interchange when it is built by this Conservative Government. Building on the point made by my hon. Friend Dean Russell, will the Minister use his good offices to ensure, together with the excellent Mayor Andy Street and Dudley Council, that the timetabling by bus operators is looked into? There is a suspicion that a little gaming is happening, especially in respect of the timetabling of buses in the late afternoon and evening.
I spoke to Mayor Andy Street late last night and will have further conversations with him in the near future. I will raise that issue with him to see if we can make more progress in that area.
One of the most interesting elements of the £2 fare is that it is for long bus routes too. Some of the cross-border routes from Dudley out into Staffordshire will benefit from it. It is not within region. One of the most important aspects of what we are trying to deliver is that it is for people who are travelling a distance right across the country.
The £2 bus fare cap in Peterborough has been an enormous success, and I thank my hon. Friend for that. He will be aware that the leader of Peterborough City Council, Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, and I are keen to start the electrification of bus services in the city. Unfortunately, the Labour Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority only seems to have eyes for Cambridge. Will my hon. Friend continue his support for me and the Conservative-led city council to make our plans to electrify our bus services a reality?
Again, I was delighted to visit Peterborough during the recent local election campaign, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his local successes. Today, we are providing Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority with an extra £2.3 million to support local bus services, on top of the support that will go to operators. I was delighted to meet council leader Wayne Fitzgerald recently in Parliament at my hon. Friend’s invitation. I look forward to working with him and my hon. Friend as we try to get the local combined authority to wake up to how important Peterborough is, as my hon. Friend never fails to mention.
I thank the excellent Minister for his statement today. Let me give him a practical example of how the announcement is levelling up not just in my area but throughout the country. For £2, someone can travel from Accrington in the constituency of my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe, through Rossendale and Darwen to Ramsbottom in my seat and into central Manchester. That is creating opportunity and jobs, and it is a fantastic announcement. I know that behind the figures, a lot of people will thank the Minister for making travel affordable and increasing individual opportunity for people throughout the country.
I thank my hon. Friend for his point. I want to see people travelling not just from Accrington to Manchester but to Ramsbottom and Rossendale and out to Hyndburn and Burnley with the £2 bus fare. It is about driving connectivity, particularly for those on lower incomes, right across our country. I thank him for welcoming the scheme and I look forward to seeing him on the X43 soon.
I shall not take it personally that I think mine is the only constituency that the Minister has not visited. He is welcome whenever he wants to come down. We have launched a bus route in co-operation with GWR, which goes through Tally Ho. The 164 goes all the way from Totnes, through Kingsbridge, to Salcombe. It is a perfect example of services being joined up.
I welcome today’s decision on the £2 cap and the extension into November 2024, but I implore the Minister to use that time to create the landscape to allow more bus routes to be created. Within that, we need to look at deregulation and at more co-operation. On top of that, we need to launch the demand responsive transport pilot scheme in more areas across the country. Finally, we need to find a way not to charge 16 to 18-year-olds to go to school, because we want to keep them learning.
I have huge sympathy for my hon. Friend’s comments about 16 to 18-year-olds. It was a decision made by the last Labour Government, when they increased the school leaving age, not to also increase the age of free bus travel. Sadly, that is a matter for the Department for Education. I encourage him to take it up with that Department, and I would be delighted to support him in doing so. Devon County Council will receive an extra £1.7 million outside the latest allocation, on top of the £14 million it has already had. I hope that it uses that extra money in the way my hon. Friend suggested: to bring together local services. Finally, I congratulate him on getting married at the weekend.
I declare an interest, as the Minister has visited my constituency too. Elderly residents who rely on bus services to Eastleigh town centre to do their shopping have had bus services disappear. That means that the town centre has struggled in the last couple of years. Will the Minister outline the support that the Government are giving Hampshire County Council? Can he advise me how I can lobby for a joined-up approach between bus operators and the county council to ensure that bus services return to Eastleigh town centre?
It is true that I get around. It was great to visit my hon. Friend, too. The local authorities in Hampshire are getting £3.6 million for local bus services. I hope that that money, plus the money that we are giving to the bus operators, will bring them together through the enhanced partnership model that the Government are pursuing, to look at how they can better serve his constituencies. He is a real champion of transport in his area. I have visited not only the buses on his patch but the very noisy motorway. I hope to see progress on that before too long.