Ministers urged to make bus franchising available to all county authorities

CCN News 2016 | 09 June 2016

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Council leaders have written to Ministers urging them to make bus franchising powers available to county authorities, otherwise rural areas face being left behind in public transport reforms.

The County Councils Network believes the Bus Services Bill has the power to reform public transport, particularly in rural areas where buses are seen as a lifeline. However, they have been marred by declining usage due to funding cuts.

In London, TfL’s franchising powers has seen the capital buck the trend in bus usage nationally, yet these powers will only be made available to areas that have chosen to be governed by mayors, or get special permission from the Government, meaning that rl areas could miss out altogether.

While some CCN members have chosen to select a mayor, many believe county areas are too large complex, and different to cities to be governed this way.

Ahead of the Bill’s second reading in the House of Lords this week, county leaders have written to Buses Minister Andrew Jones to argue all councils should be given the powers for franchising, otherwise large swathes of England could face a postcode lottery on whether their bus services will improve, with shire county councils struggling to maintain existing routes to funding reductions.

Local authorities subsidise routes that don’t make a profit, but are vital for isolated communities. But due to austerity, councils have been left with little choice but to cut back.

Research from the Campaign for Better Transport suggests that some shire counties have been forced to cut back over half their public transport budgets, with subsidies reducing by some £78million since 2010, leading to a decline in bus usage in every part of the country except London. With increased powers, this decline could be halted.

CCN welcomes the opportunity for enhanced partnerships with operators, and county leaders want to work with the Government to help design the detail of partnerships, so that they deliver improved, sustainable, and better value for money public transport.

Cllr Anne Western, CCN Economic Growth Spokeswoman, said:

“There is a lot to be welcomed in the Bus Services Bill, which has the power to reform public transport in both rural and urban areas. Like we have seen it London, it has the potential to halt the decline in bus usage and create sustainable routes that give passengers a better experience.

“Due to austerity, cutbacks to bus services have had an impact on isolated communities that truly do see public transport as a lifeline.

“That’s why it is crucial for the Government to pass on franchising powers to all councils, not simply areas that have chosen to be governed by a mayor. Rural communities arguably need sustainable bus services more than their urban counterparts, yet this policy favours the city, not the shire.

“We want to work with Government to design a Bill that both sustains and improves bus networks, but also ensures that counties are empowered to redesign services, otherwise a golden opportunity to put public transport back on an upward trajectory will be missed.”