It is clear that the current cost of living crisis is making it challenging to deliver bus services in many local communities. That is why the temporary network support grant plus has been extended until 31 March 2023, to help people to afford to travel this winter.
I continue to collaborate with bus operators, through the bus task force, to address the immediate challenges, to help them move to a more sustainable footing and to ensure that the sector is supported by wider policies to improve bus services across Scotland.
After the Scottish National Party-Green Government decided to cut the network support grant plus on 9 October, it did a quick U-turn and reintroduced the scheme in December 2022. However, the scheme has been brought back only until March, and the funding for bus operators has been reduced by 22 per cent. Will the minister confirm the reasons for ending the scheme again and why the funding that is offered has been significantly reduced?
I am not sure whether Alexander Stewart is aware that the NSG plus grant was always a temporary fund. It was always meant to come to an end at the end of the pandemic. I have made two decisions to extend that funding further: one in June and one, as he alluded, in October. The funding that is coming to an end in March brings us into line with the end of the funding in England and Wales; there is now parity across the United Kingdom on that.
That emergency funding was announced during the pandemic to help our bus operators to survive and sustain themselves further as we continued to support that recovery from the pandemic.
It is important to put on record the additional funding that we provide to bus operators. We gave around £210 million during the pandemic, which has ensured that our bus operators are well positioned and at the forefront of the green recovery. We also need to tackle congestion and improve bus journey times. We have awarded £25 million of initial funding for that to 11 bus partnerships covering 28 local authorities across Scotland.
Looking ahead, we will consider any further support that we might be able to provide to the sector. However, these are very challenging times for the Government, as Alexander Stewart will recognise.
Despite the huge investment in bus from the Scottish Government, from Covid recovery funding to the extension of concessionary travel, many of our constituents still face poor services. I understand that receipt of the network support grant plus is conditional on operators meeting particular terms and conditions, from freezing fares to protecting service levels. Will the minister provide further information on whether any current recipients of the fund have been penalised for not meeting its conditions?