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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 4th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Parliamentary Under-Secretary 7:15 pm, 4th July 2016

As long as it was lovely, that is the important point to bear in mind. I thank all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for tabling their amendments, and acknowledge the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for bringing this issue to the fore. The amendments aim to ensure that authorities think about the wider social, economic and environmental benefits of establishing a franchising or enhanced partnership scheme and remind authorities of their obligations relating to educational and socially necessary bus services.

Amendments 58A and 99ZA, tabled by the noble Baroness refer to the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, mentioned in a previous committee debate. As I have already indicated, and as the noble Baroness has acknowledged, I have written to her on this matter. My understanding is that the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires authorities which commission certain public services to think about matters relating to securing wider social, economic and environmental benefits in the context of procurement.

I believe that it would be useful to use the guidance that will accompany the Bus Services Bill to remind local authorities of the duty that the Public Services (Social Value) 2012 places on them in certain circumstances and to give some guidance on the approach to be taken in relation to procurement activities not covered by the Act. I assure noble Lords that, on the contribution of the noble Baroness, I immediately set the ball in motion. Work is in hand in the Department for Transport to consider how best we achieve this and it is getting some accolades. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is not in his place, but it is becoming a fast favourite of the noble Lord.

I also agree that any authority looking to establish a franchising scheme or an enhanced partnership scheme should think carefully about the wider social, economic and environmental benefits that such a scheme could bring. The Bill includes requirements for authorities looking to establish a franchising scheme or an enhanced partnership to think about whether the proposed scheme would contribute to the achievement of relevant policies and to consider the impacts of such a scheme. I hope this has reassured noble Lords that the social, environmental and economic issues will be considered as schemes are developed and that references will be made quite specifically in the guidance that accompanies the Bill to ensure authorities are aware of their obligations under the Public Services (Social Values) Act 2012.

Amendments 58B and 99B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, relate to educational and socially necessary services. Authorities have certain duties to consider whether to provide socially necessary services, and they also have certain duties with respect to providing home-to-school transport. I agree entirely that authorities should consider these obligations as they develop franchising or enhanced partnership schemes as co-ordinated commissioning of public transport for the whole area can lead to real efficiencies. This is one of the core principles of total transport, and I support it wholeheartedly.

The obligations on local authorities with respect to socially necessary and home-to-school services remain in place regardless of whether franchising, enhanced partnerships, or any other model is employed and I do not think it is necessary to restate these requirements in the Bill. I do however recognise that we can continue to do more to ensure that authorities are reminded of their obligations through the guidance that I have mentioned already.

The other issue raised by the noble Lord’s amendment is that of an authority subsidising certain services which would not otherwise be provided. Authorities already have the ability to do this, and the Bill does not change that. I fully expect that authorities will subsidise certain services in a franchised model for example and confirm that this will be possible under any of the new models proposed through the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about ferries. There is nothing to stop local authorities working with local operators to integrate ferries locally. Merseytravel’s multi-operator ticket already does this. It is unlikely that including a reference to ferries and the 2012 Act in this Bill would fall within the permitted scope, but I will consider the point and will write to the noble Lord if I am not correct in this respect. I hope that the assurances I have given have gone some way to addressing the issues that noble Lords have raised and that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.