The inquiry by the County All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), supported by the County Councils Network (CCN), will investigate the decline of rural bus services and make recommendations to government, with ministers pledging a multi-billion investment into buses over the coming years and a National Bus Strategy.
The deadline has been extended owing to the Coronavirus, and CCN will be accepting evidence until Friday, July 31. The terms of reference for the inquiry has also been updated: asking for councils’ reflections on the immediate and long-term impact of Coronavirus on bus services.
Figures from CCN, which represents 36 county and unitary councils in England, show that funding for bus services for those areas has almost halved by £89.8m since 2010 – a 46% drop.
In contrast, city regions’ drop in funding is £29.2m over the same period, representing a 19% drop. This is both government funding and council subsidises, with local authorities having little choice but to scale back their level of support due to huge funding challenges they have faced since 2010.
Despite this, there are fears that the recently announced National Bus Strategy from the government could disproportionately benefit city and urban areas at the expense of shire counties and rural communities.
MPs on the County APPG say that this strategy and the government’s planned investment of up to £5bn in local bus services has the potential to reverse the decline in services and make buses more accessible and frequent if counties are given a proportionate share of resource.
CCN and the County APPG argue that if government is to fulfil its pledge to level up services in England, it is essential that funding is provided directly to county authorities with all transport authorities given the powers, freedoms and flexibility to overhaul and improve local services, and replace lost routes.
In addition, The Campaign for Better Transport recently analysed the Department for Transport’s figures and found that over 3,000 bus routes have been reduced, altered or withdrawn between 2010 and 2018.
A report published in 2018 by the County APPG found that the reduction in bus services is having a negative impact on the social mobility of residents in county areas in terms of access to skills and education. This new inquiry will investigate the decline in funding and provision of rural bus services and highlight the impact that this is having on rural communities.
The call for evidence invites submissions from local authorities, bus operators, as well as local and national stakeholders. MPs are urging county authorities to provide evidence on the impact that reduced funding has had on rural bus services and the solutions councils have adopted to respond to the challenge.
The inquiry will be supported with analysis from finance and data specialists LG Futures. Evidence collected through this inquiry will form the basis of a report, which will be published later this year.
CCN and the County APPG will consider how better connectivity through bus services could assist in the government’s ambition to level-up areas, improve access to education and healthcare, skills and training, and tackle climate change through improvements to sustainable transport links.
The terms of reference and full details of the inquiry can be found here.
Please click here to download a case study template that has been created for this inquiry.
“Ensuring our towns, rural and coastal communities are well connected through sustainable local transport links is key to the levelling-up agenda. More frequent and reliable bus services have the potential to boost regional growth and improved social mobility, while they provide a lifeline to many people in remote and rural areas.
“Despite this, councils in shire counties have seen their funding almost halved for local bus services since 2010, compared to a 19% drop for the major cities. As a result, buses are almost non-existent in some of the most rural and coastal areas where services act as a lifeline, while county towns suffer from less frequent and more expensive services compared cities.
“We strongly welcome the introduction of the £5bn National Bus Strategy, which has the potential to help reverse the decline in local bus services and make services more frequent and accessible to local residents. However, we must ensure that this funding is distributed fairly to all areas and county authorities have the powers they need to improve local services.
“This inquiry aims to provide new insights into the impact of reductions to local services, how services in our rural areas have adapted in recent years and role of sustainable transport links in tackling climate change. Most importantly, it will provide clear recommendations to inform the development of the National Bus Strategy to ensure county areas fully benefit from the levelling-up agenda.”
Notes to editor