Multi million-pound rescue package for bus services could be on the way

Transport leaders in the North East are set to discuss a new multi-million rescue package for the bus network, following warnings that cuts to commercial bus services could be on the horizon.

The North East Joint Transport Committee will review proposals at its next meeting on 20 June to use some of a £12.2m allocation from the region’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) funding to safeguard vital bus services.

Transport leaders have previously warned that cuts to commercial bus services could be on the way as local bus operators respond to the Government’s withdrawal of the Bus Recovery Grant.

As such, if approved by the committee, some of the region’s transformative BSIP funding – designed to create major improvements including enhancing North East services, improving stops and stations, offering cheaper and simpler fares and more – could now be used instead to secure and maintain existing services, hopefully staving off some of the worse cuts.

Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said:

“Two years ago the Government set out a new National Bus Strategy that talked about revolutionising bus services and growing ridership through simpler fares, thousands of new buses, improved routes and higher frequencies. The Government then asked us what we need to do that in the North East. Our region worked together under very tight timeframes to create an ambitious Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP). In it we stated we would need £804m to deliver truly game-changing initiatives for the benefit of local people, our environment and our local economy.

“By having ambitious plans, we secured one of the highest funding allocations in the country at £163.5m which, although some way short of our full ask, is nevertheless a tremendous investment in our region’s buses. Frustratingly, the Government is now asking us to redirect some of this funding to prop up existing services as it withdraws its national post-Covid recovery funding. This means instead of being able to transform services, we have no choice but to use some of the funds to maintain the status quo.

“At this moment in time it is not clear whether the Government still intends to see the National Bus Strategy through. The system is clearly broken beyond repair. How many more rescue packages do we need to sign off before the Government takes a serious look at a stable funding system for public transport?” 

Finer detail will be worked out over the coming weeks as to where the £12.2m will be allocated in partnership with Durham County Council, Northumberland County Council and Nexus, which provides publicly-funded bus services for the Tyne and Wear area.

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