The estimated number of passenger journeys made on local bus services in England in each of the past three years is as follows: 2014-15, 4.63 billion; 2015-16, 4.51 billion; and 2016-17, 4.44 billion.
What is striking is that in many ways there is so much to be optimistic about with the bus industry. When I talk to operators, I see great investments in technology and ticketing, and tremendous potential for the industry in the context of the air quality changes that have been made by this Government.
In Bristol, more than 85% of routes are provided by First Bus, which makes a healthy profit every year, but under current rules it cannot use those profits to subsidise commercially unviable routes, which may be really important to local people. Why cannot bus companies’ contracts stipulate that they have to run those services using their profits from income-generating routes, instead of letting them pocket the profits while the local council has to foot the bill?
It is not historically the job of Government to be intervening in the precise allocation of a company’s profitability. I note that there has been a substantial increase in journeys in Bristol, from 32.7 million to 39.9 million over the past three years. If the hon. Lady has some specific proposals, I will be happy to look at them.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind if I take this opportunity to record my gratitude to both the emergency services and railway staff for their outstanding response to the fire at Nottingham railway station last week, ensuring that everyone was safely evacuated. Damage was minimised and services were restored very quickly.
Around a quarter of all concessionary passholders’ bus journeys are for medical appointments, yet many struggle with inaccessible and irregular bus services, and seven years of cuts to supported services have only exacerbated those problems. Research from Age UK has found that 1.5 million people over 65 found it very difficult, or difficult, to travel to hospital appointments, and stressful, complicated or expensive public transport journeys inevitably lead to missed or cancelled appointments. Has the Minister discussed that pressing problem with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, and what does he plan to do to address it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and I absolutely associate myself with her support for the emergency services in relation to the fire in Nottingham.
In many ways, the concessionary fare scheme has been a colossal success, as the hon. Lady will be aware. Something like 12 million people have concessionary permits in this country and they make enormous numbers of journeys every year, heavily supported by Government.
Government cuts have led to the axing or downgrading of 400 bus routes, and passenger numbers are now at a 10-year low. Will the Minister reinstate those services, or, if he is unwilling or unable to do so, will he give local councils the power and resources that they need?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Opposition Front Bench, and I thank him for the question. Of course, these services are deregulated and operate, in many cases, in collaboration with local authorities, which receive substantial amounts of funding from central Government. We expect them to deploy that money as they see fit.