[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair] — Bus Industry

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 6th September 2011.

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Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 9:30 am, 6th September 2011

The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly sound point, which I will come to in my conclusions. The large operators own the garages and can afford to subsidise competition if there are new entrants to the market—it is a long way from being perfect competition.

I was talking about the profits of Go-Ahead but the profits of Stagecoach are truly staggering, especially when the economy is flatlining and we have been in recession. They are up to £153 million from £126 million, which is an increase from 14.4% to 17.1%. In the friendly debates I have with Brian Souter of Stagecoach, he once called Gwyneth Dunwoody and me “dinosaurs” because we believe in going back to a sane system of regulated buses—he even set up little models of dinosaurs. I do not know how many people in the Chamber remember the film made of the James Clavell book, “King Rat”. When the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore was liberated by allied forces, there was one very fat prisoner among all the other prisoners, whose ribs were showing—they were starving to death. At a time of austerity and the economy not doing well, Brian Souter and Stagecoach are the King Rats of the British economy, doing enormously well out of public subsidy when everyone else is struggling to get to work and make a living. They are, in effect, subsidy junkies.

The figures in the Transport Committee’s report show that the bus industry outside London receives from the fare pot about £1.8 billion in a total income of £3.4 billion, so 47% of the bus industry’s income comes from taxpayers. It is as simple as that. Whenever a bus leaves a depot, an average of 50% of its costs are paid by taxpayers. Given what has happened with deregulation, is that sensible use of taxpayers’ money? Are we receiving the best possible value?