My Lords, I support this amendment, and will also speak to the others in the group—Amendments 58B, 99ZA and 99B. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, hit the nail on the head when she talked about extended ambitions, and my noble friend Lady Jones gave a really inspirational description of what one might be looking for. All these amendments basically cover the same thing, which is to do with creativity. When people are looking at whether it is right to have a franchise, partnerships or whatever, I hope that the Government will, through these amendments or something similar, realise the benefits from bidders having more freedom to be creative—whether in terms of different types of bus, different types of service, frequency and timetables, fitting in with other services such as railways or opening times for hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, and things like that.
Amendments 58B and 99B mention,
“functions as an education authority”,
“functions in respect of social services”.
In my little village in Cornwall, there is a bus that goes every morning to take people to the big school in the big town, which goes at much the same time as the little bus which takes people to the station, the supermarket or anywhere else. One has to ask why they are not combined. At the moment they have different budgets, and one is run by the private sector and the other is organised by the local authority. You could go a bit further and add river ferry services in little places like that.
The same applies to social services. This would need a great deal of flexibility: they will not all need a double-decker bus, but they might need a minibus or even a taxi. But if the information was there, there would be an enormous benefit. Small local communities, especially in the countryside, would actually realise that it was their bus and might even be able to have input into when the small ones go, on occasions. We now have the ability to do that with integrated ticketing, which we discussed on the first day of Committee. However, it is not just ticketing; people want information. Even people who might be getting a little old and are not always capable of understanding too many things about modern computers might well be able to find something which gives them the information they need about when the service might go and to get the message that it will be going. Going to hospital can be not only difficult and time-consuming for people, especially in the outlying places, but quite traumatic sometimes. With something like this, having everything bundled together—the school bus, social services and general transport—would be an enormous step forward.
How would this happen? The local authority if it is allowed to, or the mayor if there is a mayor, should be able to co-ordinate all these things. In Cornwall, they have got agreement with the Government to integrate social services with hospital funding, and I hope it extends to transport, which, in a long thin county, is extremely difficult. Those kind of things will bring benefits, and the feeling is certainly there that this can probably be done without any subsidy. If it is done properly, one thing that might just happen is that they will get more passengers and more revenue. It will be early days, and there may need to be some seed-corn money to start it off, but if we can get out of having every little service in a different box and never talking to each other, there could be real benefits and progress.
I am sure the Minister will say none of the four amendments in this group is perfect, but if he believes that the intent is worth pursuing, then I am sure there are discussions to be had and new drafting to be done to turn this into a reality. I very much hope that he will agree to that.