A couple of weeks ago in Parliament just before they closed down for Easter there was a debate on the subject of “National Bus Strategy: England” and although the debate was focused on the whole of England, it became clear for those of us who live in Sussex that there is a need and indeed an opportunity for local MPs to work together to improve public transport and in particular bus transport for our communities. Let us hope that these MPs do what they were being called to do by Grant Shapps and that this will break through some of the barriers that seem to stop MPs working together with people from different political parties. As well as working with people from different parties let us also hope that they will also promote the hard work carried out by Bus companies such as The Big Lemon. Indeed if they can work in a creative way over Transport issues then perhaps they can also deal with matters such as racism as I wrote about yesterday.
Also since this blog was published CPRE has developed a petition so here is a link for that as an additional element.
The following words came from Grant Shapps as the Minister along with Huw Merriman who is the MP for Bexhill and Battle and Lloyd Russell-Moyle for Brighton Kemptown. However these two people who are MPs at either end of East Sussex need to also connect with MPs in West Sussex. So here is some of the statement set out by Grant Shapps on 15th March.
GS: I would like to make a statement about bus services. Britain is often described as a railway nation, but if we have a national form of public transport, it is definitely the bus, carrying more than 4 billion passengers a year in England—more than twice as many as rail—over a vast network. No other type of public transport comes close for convenience, affordability and popularity. If anyone needs persuading of the bus’s value, surely the 2020 experience has provided us with the evidence we need. Without buses operating day and night, many key workers would have been unable to get to work, so we owe a debt of gratitude to the bus industry and, in particular, to the magnificent bus drivers for keeping this country moving. Covid has shown that buses provide Britain with far more than just a means of travel. There are a lifeline for millions. In normal times, they help students to get to college, they help those without work to attend job interviews, they help the elderly to get to the shops and they help us all to get about. They are crucial for the survival of our high streets, for rural businesses and for the planet, too. For many disabled people, they can be an accessible way to stay mobile. In all these ways, buses are not just an industry but almost a social service. Fundamentally, they help us to level up the country. Buses can and should also be the transport of choice, in my view. London, Brighton and Harrogate have already proved this, with frequent modern services and dedicated lanes attracting millions of journeys a year from the private car. We want to do that everywhere throughout the country, yet in most regions outside London services have been in decline for decades. Successive Governments before this one have failed to prioritise buses, either with sufficient investment or with a workable plan. That is why this Government are taking action to revitalise bus services, and why today we have published the national bus strategy for England outside of London, with its bold vision for the industry to reform the way it has managed to deliver tangible benefits for passengers, and this is all backed by £3 billion of Government investment.……….Before covid, the way in which buses were organised made it hard to arrest the decline in bus ridership—a decline that has been going on since the 1960s. The pandemic has brought councils and the industry together, and we want every local transport authority in the country and its bus operators to be in statutory enhanced partnerships or in franchising arrangements throughout. The franchising system is used in London. For example, Transport for London sets the routes and the fares, but that will not be appropriate everywhere. That is why enhanced partnerships will be required, whereby the operators and the councils reach negotiated agreements on how buses will run, with local authorities taking greater responsibility for bus services, whichever solution they choose. By 30 June this year, we want all local authorities to commit to one of those two options, with the bus operators’ support. We will need that commitment if they are to receive further emergency funding from the covid bus services support grant. I can confidently predict that they will all be on board. Local authorities, in collaboration with operators, will then produce bus service improvement plans by the end of October this year.
So after he had finished his statement one of the first responses came from Huw Merriman
HM: I warmly welcome the bus strategy, and thank the Secretary of State and the Buses Minister, Baroness Vere, for taking ideas in. The Secretary of State is right to look at best practice by local authorities; he mentioned Brighton. What can we do to ensure that best practice becomes normal practice, and what more investment can be given to local authorities to ensure that there is a buses champion in each local transport authority?
GS: I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s contribution to this debate, not just with the point he has just made in this Chamber, but in his work with the Transport Committee in pushing for a bus strategy, which we are proud to deliver today. He asked specifically about how he can shape that and about local authorities. We are giving £25 million to local authorities to come up with this plan by 31 October, and we expect every local authority in the country to be part of that. Not only that, but we want Members in this House to work with their local authorities, as I have done with the Beeching reversal plan, which has been very popular. MPs have helped to lead that, and I expect that my hon. Friend will want to do that in his area as well.
And then a bit later Lloyd Russell-Moyle spoke
LR-M: I welcome any strategy that will continue to support buses. I also welcome the Secretary of State’s mentioning Brighton several times. Brighton & Hove Buses might be in private hands but it is still run with the ethos of a municipal bus service. We would love to have a hydrogen hub in our area, in either the port of Newhaven or Shoreham. Can he reassure me about cross-border services and ensure that there is a duty for local authorities to co-operate so that pricing does not jump about and we can have through pricing between authorities?
GS: The hon. Gentleman makes good points. I am very keen that crossing over some usually totally invisible line between one local authority and the other does not mean that the service stops and tickets run out. He is absolutely right. I will be paying special attention to that issue in various different local authorities’ plans in October.
So it would appear that our Government is calling for MPs and Local Authorities to work together on this subject and let us hope in due course they begin to do so on other themes.