Give us the funding we need to deliver our ambitions for bus

Transport leaders are submitting a response to the Transport Select Committee inquiry into the National Bus Strategy – one year on from its publication.

The North East Joint Transport Committee led the region’s response to the National Bus Strategy which was published in March 2021. Following its publication, local authorities and bus operators are working together to move towards a formal bus partnership which aims to breathe new life into the network.

A major project is now underway to deliver an Enhanced Partnership (EP) for the North East although all options are open for the longer-term including bus franchising. The North East governance does not currently have automatic powers to develop a franchising scheme.

The North East’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) was submitted to the Department for Transport in October 2021 and remains the regional ambition to transform bus services. The bid stood at £804m which leaders are confident would dramatically transform bus services across the North East, greatly improving the bus network for millions of passengers and encouraging more people to make the switch from use of a private car to public transport.

Government funding for BSIPs was initially outlined as £3bn however the amount has been reduced £1.2bn and allocations to local authorities across the country remain unclear. Timings have also changed since the publication of the National Bus Strategy and are not fully confirmed as this goes to press.

Cllr Martin Gannon outlines that while he welcomes the ambition of the Government’s strategy, a year on the North East has yet to see the promised funding materialise.

He said: “The National Bus Strategy hit the nail on the head and its ambition to greatly improve bus services outside of London is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Sadly, a year on from the publication of the strategy, its delivery is effectively at a standstill and the North East has yet to see any confirmation from the Department for Transport of the funding promised. This delay is hampering our economic recovery and effectively forcing people into their cars at a time when petrol prices have never been so costly.

“The North East pulled out all the stops to respond to the National Bus Strategy as our BSIP is a once-in a generation opportunity to invest in the North East public transport network. This investment would bring about a wealth of major improvements to our bus network including fares initiatives – such multi-modal fares and a price cap, affordable fares for under 19s, kids go free in the summer – as well as better frequencies, improved services, new stops and bus stations, the creation of a night bus network and more.

“We want to deliver all of these improvements for local people to drive green, sustainable change which opens up enhanced opportunities for education and jobs for local people, while at the same time driving down congestion and tackling air pollution.

“Initially we are developing an Enhanced Partnership as we must do so in response to the strategy, however all options remain on the table for the future including franchising. We are closely watching other region’s delivery with interest.”

Public transport has been impacted significantly by the pandemic, with Cllr Gannon adding: “Local people are concerned about the loss of commercial bus services as a result of Government’s withdrawal of covid recovery funding for public transport. At the beginning of March it announced that funding will now continue until October, however this announcement came at the eleventh hour meaning some commercial operator cuts which had already been registered will still go ahead. As it stands, we have no clarification on the amount of recovery funding the North East will receive – this uncertainty is entirely unnecessary.

“The very idea of cuts to services undermines public confidence in our public transport network and goes against our desire to grow use of sustainable transport including bus travel. We want to invest in our network so that it is of a quality that motorists will feel offers an appealing option for them – driving modal shift and encouraging people to use the bus when they can.

“Our bus network is incredibly important to our communities with millions of passenger journeys each year. For many the bus is their main mode of transport so it’s absolutely vital that we invest in our network to grow services for people that currently use them and those who will in the future.

“We provided a comprehensive response to the National Bus Strategy – it is now the Government’s turn to confirm funding so we can get to work to deliver on our ambitions. My hope is that the Government take the opportunity to deliver on their promises as a priority, meanwhile I would welcome the opportunity to travel to Westminster so that I can speak to the Transport Select Committee on this important issue for the region. I want to outline the devastating impact this delay from Government is having on our bus network.

“I urge Government to give us the funding we need to deliver our ambitions for bus and halt the endless delays on the process.”

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