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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 4th July 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:45 pm, 4th July 2016

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 48 and 51 in my name. I very much support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Whitty. Amendment 48 takes a similar position—that as part of the consultation process, passenger organisations and trade union and employee organisations must be involved. We believe that proper time should be allocated to make this a meaningful consultation and an effort made to explain the changes in a clear and accessible form to those who may be affected. As my noble friend said, we have debated these issues in relation to previous amendments and received a positive response from the Minister. I hope a similar response will be forthcoming today.

I hope that Amendment 51 is an area where the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and I are able to agree for once; I am pleased that some commonality is coming out of this debate. One of the problems with bus provision in this country is that the market is dominated by a small number of large bus operators. This makes the procurement process more difficult for local authorities and does not always result in the best passenger experience. It is difficult for new entrants to enter the sector, even though they often provide more responsive, quality services with high customer satisfaction. Reference has previously been made to the social enterprise company HCT, which runs highly successful services in parts of London, Yorkshire and Bristol. It also has the contract for providing bus services in Jersey. Since it took over that service, passenger usage has increased by 32%, the level of subsidy has reduced by £800,000 a year and customer satisfaction has increased by 5%. Somewhat uniquely, the contract also has a profit-sharing element and it is now giving money back to the local authority.

We need opportunities for innovative providers like HCT to enter the market and win new contracts, but the rules are stacked against them and the regulatory burden is far too onerous for the small providers to navigate. There is a danger that the proposals in the Bill will entrench local monopolies, at best replacing an unresponsive private sector monopoly with a publicly commissioned one. When it comes to enhanced partnerships, we need to be clearer about the process for opening up partnership lists to competition to allow new entrants to join. As it stands, the Bill acknowledges this problem in new Section 123F (1)(i). It requires the consultation document for authorities going down the franchising route to include a statement on how they propose to facilitate the involvement of small and medium-sized operators. We obviously welcome that.

Our amendment takes this one step further and requires the consultation document to consider how the franchise could be divided into smaller units. This would help to break down the local monopolies and encourage new entrants into the market. I hope the Minister understands and shares these objectives: I look forward to hearing his response.