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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 24th October 2016.

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Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 6:15 pm, 24th October 2016

My Lords, despite the passion shown by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I am afraid that I am still not convinced by the renewed arguments for removing this clause. No one denies that existing locally owned bus companies are by and large a success story—I said as much in Committee. They have a great track record of securing awards and a very high satisfaction rate among their passengers. I can see nothing in this Bill that would change that and I wish those municipal bus companies every success as they continue to deliver for their customers.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked: “What is wrong?” The only reason why a local authority would wish to set up its own bus company now would be to put it in prime position to win a franchise contract, a contract that its parent company, the local authority, was awarding. That would make something of a mockery of that franchise competition. Why would another bus operator go to all the expense, in both time and monetary terms, of submitting a bid for the franchise knowing that it was up against another company that was owned by the awarding authority? It would be a done deal from the start, so other operators in that area might as well shut up shop straightaway. I therefore disagree with the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that Clause 21 is not consistent with the objectives of the Bill. It is necessary to make the Bill work properly. Of course, a local authority company would also have to invest resources in submitting a bid, but those resources would come from the local authority, so the body awarding the franchise would have paid for its own company to bid. That does not seem right.

I have a final point which I believe is very important: there is nothing new in this clause. All it does is extend the bar on establishing a bus company to types of local authority that did not exist when the Transport Act 1985 was passed; for example, unitary authorities. The UK bus market has coped very well for the past 30 years without district councils being able to set up their own bus companies, so why the outcry now? I think that I have answered my own question: a combined authority or unitary authority, having secured the necessary powers, would want to establish its own bus company now only to gain a foothold in the franchise process and wipe out the competition. That is not an acceptable way of proceeding. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will vigorously resist the amendment and support Clause 21.