Bus Services Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 4th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Chair, EU Internal Market Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Internal Market Sub-Committee 6:30 pm, 4th July 2016

My Lords, this is a slightly odd group, although all the amendments in it deal with consultation after a franchising notice has been agreed. The first amendment deals with an issue which the Minister may feel we have flogged to death at early stages, and relates to the engagement of representatives of users of the services. That is referred to in the relevant new paragraph (c), although I agree with the earlier comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that the term “as they think fit” somewhat prejudices the possibility of effective consumer representation in this field if the authority is rather resistant to any organisation purporting to represent the users.

The additional point in this amendment is that not only would I expect authorities and operators in the new franchising situation to encourage, engage with and help develop organisations representing users in the area covered by the new franchise, and go on to develop that further during the course of the franchise, but there is also an issue of how—at least in the initial stages—these franchises develop in different parts of the country and how they relate to passenger concerns across the country. Across England we have an organisation—Transport Focus—which is based in statute and has recently enlarged its role in relation to road users of all sorts as a result of the Infrastructure Bill which passed through this House a few months ago. With Highways England it is responsible for looking after all the interests—commercial and individual—of road users; that is, cars, buses, freight, et cetera. It also has a national perspective. In the railway sector it compares the performance of franchises in the different railway franchise areas, and has done so a number of times. It conducts surveys and gathers feedback. There is a crossover of things that are appreciated by passengers in one area into other areas of rail provision. The same must apply in relation to buses. As we are just starting a new system in relation to buses, the first two or three franchises will set the tone for the way in which the system will operate. It will be important for a national passenger organisation to have at least the ability to comment on those developments and on what passengers find good or negative about them and where they would like to see improvements. As the system develops, the franchising system in large parts of England would benefit from having an overall view from Transport Focus on how a new franchise is perceived by passengers using the system.

When setting the franchise, the authorities will wish to look at the way it has operated in areas where they have already established a franchising system. As time goes on, cross-comparison is important. The organisation, already in place, which would give this perspective is Transport Focus. There is no mention of Transport Focus in the Bill. Therefore, I hope that a role is given in the Bill to that organisation in providing a cross-reference of how the system is working for those who ultimately will be the beneficiaries of what I hope will be an improved service. I beg to move.