[Relevant Documents: Oral evidence taken before the Transport Committee on 8 and 29 June 2022, on National bus strategy: one year on, HC 161.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered zero emission buses in the UK.
It is a great pleasure to open the debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray—indeed, we will be turning the tables this afternoon when you serve as a member of my Committee—and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate.
I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry, and my comments will relate mainly to the manufacture and delivery of green buses in this country. There are many other connected issues, such as the franchising operations and how those are delivered, and the fares that are charged, but, given that one of the major bus and coach manufacturers, Alexander Dennis Ltd, is located in my constituency, I will concentrate on manufacturing. Alexander Dennis Ltd also has a factory in Falkirk, and I am sure the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) will be commenting on that.
Alexander Dennis Ltd sprang out of the Plaxton company, which has been established in Scarborough for more than 100 years, and it has 31,000 vehicles in service around the world, including the three-axle double-deckers that we see on the streets of Hong Kong, 200 battery electric vehicles being delivered to the Republic of Ireland, and 200 Enviro500 top-of-the-fleet double-deckers, which are being delivered to Berlin. The company truly is making a product for the global market.
Alexander Dennis Ltd employs 1,850 people in the United Kingdom on eight sites, and the company can deliver diesel buses—the traditional motive power—as well as battery electric buses, which make up the majority of the new-generation buses it produces, and hydrogen buses, on which other manufacturers are majoring.
Later this year, Alexander Dennis Ltd will deliver a fully autonomous bus. In some ways, it is amazing that the company is ahead of the rail industry. Apart from one or two examples such as the docklands light railway, the majority of trains still have drivers, despite the fact that trains run on rails and do not need steering, whereas Alexander Dennis will deliver a new generation of autonomous buses—driverless buses—which I believe will lead the way in making buses even more cost-effective.
Why are we here today? I am afraid that, despite the rhetoric from the Government, the orders for the 4,000 promised buses are not coming through. We were promised 4,000 zero-emission buses under the ZEBRA—zero-emission bus regional areas—scheme. We were told initially that they would be delivered during this Parliament, and Members will understand why the manufacturers got themselves geared up and ready to produce those buses. Then we were told, “Well, the buses will be on order by the end of the Parliament.” Most recently, we understand that funding will be available by the end of the Parliament. I am afraid, Minister, this is not good enough. We need to get those buses on our streets and delivering not only for those who work in the bus industry but for those passengers who genuinely want to use an environmentally friendly mode of transport.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on introducing the debate on what is a topical subject in the real sense of the word, and I am pleased to see the Minister in her place.
We in Northern Ireland have made a clear commitment to these new, zero-emission buses through Translink, and we have constructed a programme for the next few years, through to 2032, of which the Translink Gliders will be part, but for that to happen we all need to take advantage of the opportunity to manufacture those buses. We in Northern can do that, alongside the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents. Does he agree that Northern Ireland can be part of that greater plan for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to work together to produce these buses?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and every part of the United Kingdom should be able to benefit from the next generation of clean and green buses. Indeed, Northern Ireland is well placed because Wrightbus, which manufactures in Ballymena in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), can deliver hydrogen-propelled buses. I will say more about that later.
The ZEBRA scheme is a Government-led green initiative that the industry has responded to by designing the vehicles to help to deliver it. But where are the orders? The inertia threatens the Government’s net zero strategy. Bus registrations are already at an all-time low. The pandemic hit bus operators and passengers numbers still have not recovered.
We need volume production to sustain our three indigenous manufacturers: Switch Mobility in Leeds, Wrightbus in Ballymena and Alexander Dennis at its locations in Scotland and Scarborough. We need a flow of orders, not large orders in the future that would only favour Chinese manufacturers. The UK market for buses grew 28% in 2021 from a historically low baseline, but the massive, state-supported Chinese manufacturer Yutong saw its market share triple at the same time.
I would be the last person to advocate a protectionist policy; the “America first” policy was so damaging to vehicle manufacturing in America because it made steel and aluminium expensive and therefore manufactured products such as buses expensive. Competition always drives innovation and efficiency, but it must be fair competition. Not only does the Chinese economy run on rules different from those in Europe, but manufacturing in China benefits from lower energy prices. I remind hon. Members that China still buys gas and oil from Russia.
China also has disproportionate influence over supplies of raw materials, including lithium, which is vital to make the current generation of batteries. That is why we must also make progress on our own indigenous battery production by not only using Cornish lithium but setting up factories such as the Britishvolt facility that is planned in Blyth in the north-east of England. We must take the lead in looking at the next-generation solid-state batteries, which perhaps will not require the rare-earth materials and minerals that the Chinese have been so successful at cornering, particularly in some African states.
Some of the delays in placing orders are down to negotiations between operators and transport authorities to deliver, for example, bus priority schemes. There is no point in taking a zero-emission bus if it is stuck in the same queue as diesel and petrol cars. I hope the Minister can break the logjam and get the orders on the production lines here in the United Kingdom—not in China—and fitted with UK batteries, not batteries made in China.
The hon. Member for North Antrim would have liked to be here today, but instead I will say a little about how Northern Ireland is progressing. Wrightbus is now under the ownership of Jo Bamford, who is part of the JCB dynasty and has taken that company, which was in danger of failing, and brought it into the 21st century. It is majoring on hydrogen buses. There are great opportunities for hydrogen fuel cell buses, too, particularly when we can develop our green hydrogen market in the UK, because 95% of the hydrogen produced in this country is so-called blue hydrogen derived from natural gas. That will be a useful step on the road to net zero but, ultimately, we need green hydrogen produced by the fantastic nuclear industry in Cumbria, which I know the Minister—an atomic kitten, as she describes herself—will be keen to promote.
Buses are a really good place to start because they go back to the depot every night, so they can charge up and refuel. Hydrogen is not ubiquitous throughout the country, but if we are to move forward on it, buses will take the lead. JCB’s heavy plant operation is looking at spark-ignition hydrogen engines for large construction operations. Hydrogen is the future in many applications, and certainly for lorries that do not go back to the depot. In the meantime, battery electric is the low-hanging fruit that we can grasp quickly to deliver buses that do not need to rely on fossil fuels.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, when will the promised 4,000 ZEBRA zero-emission buses be on our streets? Secondly, what can she do to ensure they are British and not Chinese built? Unfortunately, a number of local authorities and bus companies have already ordered Chinese buses, which are currently on our streets. Thirdly—we need to be careful about this, because it is easy to grasp a figure out of the air and say, “This is the target”—after due consideration of what is practical, reasonable and can be delivered by the industry, when would be a realistic date to phase out the sale of diesel buses? That is particularly important because buses, unlike other motor vehicles, tend to have a very long operational life, so those delivered in 2027-28 are still likely to be on the roads in 2050, which is of course our target for net zero.
I thank hon. Members for listening to the points I have made. I hope we have a bright future with sustainable bus transport produced by British manufacturers such as Alexander Dennis Ltd in Scarborough, which is a very efficient, cost-effective factory. I look forward to hearing other hon. Members’ comments.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mrs Murray. With your permission, I will talk about the bus service that covers my constituency and the one you represent.
I thank the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for introducing this debate so well. Buses matter, and there are not enough debates about them in this place. There seem to be five debates on trains for every debate on buses, and I am afraid I am as guilty as other hon. Members for ranting about trains all the time, missing the fact that far more people use buses every day than use trains.
The right hon. Gentleman made a strong case for having a clear plan to move the propulsion of our bus fleet from diesel to electric or hydrogen. That matters. I will talk about the difference between electric and hydrogen buses—especially those that serve parts of the world such as the far south-west, where we have very intense urban areas in Plymouth but the bus network also provides lifeline services for our rural communities. There is not currently a single propulsion method that would work for both environments. That is why, when we look at zero-emission buses and the green buses of the future, we need to understand that fast-charging electric buses are a good idea for urban areas, and that we must invest in hydrogen to sustain rural routes, especially those with long distances between stops. That means a different type of infrastructure to go with the buses.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we need more British-built buses on our roads, but we also need more British-built infrastructure to support them. It is not only the capital cost of the buses that we need to look at: currently, a zero-emission bus is considerably more expensive than the equivalent diesel bus. That is result of the market not being able to sustain the volume of bus construction that we need to reduce those costs, and of the capital cost of innovation and experimentation on those buses to ensure we get the technology right. We need to order at scale to reduce the per-unit cost of buses, but we also need a plan so that local authorities, bus companies and transport bodies can invest properly in their communities.
Last week, I met our brilliant local bus company, Citybus—which also provides the Go Cornwall services that you will be familiar with, Mrs Murray—to discuss the ideal solution in Plymouth, which is additional fast-charging locations in Plymouth and a hydrogen network to sustain routes from Plymouth into Cornwall, west Devon and the South Hams. That means doubling the infrastructure that is required for a single bus company, although buses would be operated under different brands in different parts of the region. That is quite a considerable capital outlay.
The industry is looking for a clear direction. The right hon. Gentleman asked when the promised buses will come, which is fair. I think the Government have over-exaggerated and over-spun the policy.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the up-front cost of an electric battery or hydrogen bus is more, but of course the lifelong cost of the bus is less. It is a bit like nuclear energy: it is all up front. That is why the Government are introducing the scheme to reassure the market that it can invest in the buses. Incidentally, the majority of bus routes can manage on an overnight charge, but there are certain routes that might need a top-up during the day. Electric might not be the answer for very steep routes, which is where hydrogen comes in.
I think the right hon. Gentleman has been to Plymouth and has seen our hills. We certainly have a need currently for mixed-mode propulsion as a transition technology until we get to a 100% green bus fleet, so we need capital investment in that, and I agree with what he says about the per-unit price. Investing in low-emission and zero-emission buses is good not only economically, but for our public health and our planet, and we need to make that case much more.
When we look at how to support bus infrastructure, one of the things we need to decide is what that means in practical terms. Does it mean fast-charging bus locations that are not located at the bus depot, for instance? Do we need to encourage bus companies to buy up interim stops? They could simply be warehouse slots along major routes, for instance, where fast charging might sustain a bus and enable it to continue all day. However, Citybus has said it would need more buses to sustain a fully electric fleet. That is simply a factor of how long it takes to charge a bus and what the demand is during a particular period.
The hon. Gentleman is making a critical point, but does he agree that we must have a strategic, laid-out plan for how to achieve that? It cannot be left entirely to the bus companies to, for instance, purchase a portion of land where they can put their charging points. If we are to make sure this happens, it has to be strategic and Government-led, in co-operation with councils and companies. It will only happen if we all work together, which I think is the point the hon. Gentleman is making.
I am grateful for that intervention, because it leads me to my next point, which is about how we create that infrastructure. It needs to be created against a plan, which is one of the areas in which the Government could do more work, to put it kindly. Transport is a patchwork quilt, with devolved responsibilities, retained responsibilities and different councils having different responsibilities regarding bus services, let alone the procurement of transport systems—for instance, we have a very mixed picture on that score in the far south-west compared with areas such as Manchester or the west midlands. We need to have a clear plan so that we know that investment is timely and well spent. If, for example, we do not have an understanding that we will need more superfast chargers for bus services—but not at the main bus depot—to be built into the economic plan for our location, it is going to be harder for us to get the bus services that we need and the transition away from diesel engines that we all want.
When it comes to bus infrastructure, it is not only the charging infrastructure that matters: we have to make sure that people actually get on the buses. Bus patronage is a key factor in the transition to zero-emission buses, because if it continues to be below pre-pandemic levels, it will not be economically viable for many bus companies to invest in higher unit price buses, nor to run the frequency of services that communities deserve to keep them going. In Plymouth—as you know very well, Mrs Murray—our council plan to remove one third of Plymouth’s bus shelters, which makes waiting for a bus in a city famous for its rain a little bit more awkward. I want to encourage more people to get on a bus; I want people to use buses more frequently. That means the entire end-to-end journey for a passenger getting on a bus needs to be made more efficient, more comfortable, ideally cheaper, and more environmentally responsible.
That brings me to my final point, which is about air quality. A key factor in the drive to move from diesel buses to zero-emission ones, be they electric or hydrogen, is the impact of diesel bus fleets on the air quality of our communities. The air-quality improvements that we have seen in London since the ultra low emission zone was introduced, and in the trials that Transport for London has done in removing diesel buses from certain routes, have been considerable. I want a clean air Act to be introduced, and Labour has been making that case, but such an Act needs to be backed by actions to deliver cleaner air. One of those is to set a clear date for phasing out diesel engines, not just in cars and vans but in buses, too. Buses have greater usage than cars: a bus that is used nearly the entire day will clearly have a bigger air-quality implication than, for instance, a diesel car that is used twice a day for short journeys. That is why we need extra urgency when it comes to removing diesel buses: not just because of the carbon emissions, but because of the air-quality improvements, especially the reduction in the NOx—nitrogen oxides—that have such a bad effect on our lungs and our hearts in particular.
The hon. Gentleman is making absolutely the right point. One of the problems we have is that some very old buses still operate on routes around the country. Some of those buses—and, indeed, taxis—were displaced from London as the clean-air technology came in. We need to get rid of those old buses. The Euro 6 buses perform well on our streets, but we have all seen some very old buses up and down the country that still contribute a lot to poor air quality.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The cascading of older stock—be that train rolling stock or buses—to the regions means that, in many cases, they receive the poorer-quality engines and have poorer air quality. They will continue to have poorer air quality for a lot longer than some of our big urban cities, which are able to use their mass to invest in addressing the problem.
I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about Plymouth Citybus and its plans for the future. I want every bus in Plymouth and throughout the country to be a zero-emission bus, and I want to see more people use our bus services. I want to see them being made cheaper, but for that to happen we need bus companies and bus manufacturers to have the confidence to invest. I want to see more of those buses being British-built, and I want to see us proudly manufacturing the future of green transport in this country. I think that is possible, but for it to happen, we need the Government to have a clearer plan on the production and manufacture of not only the bus but the battery, and we need the infrastructure plan to accompany it. I sometimes feel that the infrastructure plan does not get a fair hearing in this debate, so I hope the Minister will respond on that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray. I am delighted to contribute to the debate, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for securing it.
Speaking in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen, we see hydrogen as a key component in the zero-emission bus mix. Last week, I was delighted to take a bus journey from the Science Museum to Parliament, on a bus that seemed just like any other—there was no additional noise, the bus looked exactly the same and the seats were just as comfortable—but the key difference was that it was powered by hydrogen. This is the opportunity that hydrogen represents for us—one that is as revolutionary as it is unremarkable. Regardless of whether hydrogen is powering our buses, heating our homes or fuelling a large furnace, the experience is exactly the same as what we are used to, but without the negative emissions.
Hydrogen has uses that stretch much further than buses alone. Hydrogen can be used to power aeroplanes, such as in ZeroAvia’s trial. It can be used to power ferries and ships, and hydrogen in an internal combustion engine could even make the diggers of the future, as my right hon. Friend mentioned. What are the real benefits of hydrogen buses? They require much shorter maintenance periods, because a zero-emission bus—whether it is hydrogen or battery electric—has far fewer moving parts, so the maintenance schedule can be drastically reduced, meaning that more buses can be on the road at shorter notice.
That brings me to my next point, which is about the distinct benefit of hydrogen buses over battery electric. Battery electric buses typically take up to eight hours to charge, whereas a hydrogen bus, much like a diesel vehicle, could be back on its way in just eight minutes. To replace a diesel bus currently, a fleet operator may have to purchase 1.2 electric buses to make up for the charge time, with buses being off the road for a number of hours. However, because of both the shorter maintenance period and the ability to refuel quickly, it is possible to replace diesel buses with far fewer hydrogen buses, saving the taxpayer money in the long run.
Another benefit is that hydrogen buses can today support British jobs in the production of hydrogen. Anyone who has travelled here today via Westminster tube station will have seen the huge advertisements for BP’s investment in Teesside, which will produce 15% of the Government’s 2030 hydrogen targets in both blue and green hydrogen. On top of that, we also have investment from Kellas on the north side of the Tees, from EDF’s production of green hydrogen, and from Petroneum.
Hydrogen represents a real opportunity to reindustrialise areas such as mine, but it is also a whole-of-the-UK industry, because the majority of hydrogen buses are made by Wrightbus in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. When Wrightbus went into administration in 2019, it had only 56 staff remaining in the business, but Jo Bamford bought Wrightbus and refocused its efforts on hydrogen buses, and it is now on track to employ more than 1,000 staff this year as the firm with the largest hydrogen bus fleet in Europe and the second largest in the world.
To bring us back to the title of the debate, which is “Zero-emission Buses”, the biggest benefit of a hydrogen bus is that it is zero emission. In fact, in many ways, hydrogen buses help to clear up negative emissions, as they filter nitrous oxides while running and their only by-product is water.
I turn now to my asks of Government. My primary ask is this: do not forget about hydrogen. We hear all the time about battery electric buses—there are 35 times more battery buses than hydrogen buses in London—but although battery electric has a role to play, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) outlined, no one should be in any doubt that hydrogen fuel cells have distinct benefits and cannot be ignored, particularly for public transport uses but also in road haulage and emergency service vehicles. I expect hydrogen to play a key role in all three.
Secondly, the Government must support steps for the storage and distribution of hydrogen. It is no coincidence that now more people have electric vehicles, because there are far more readily available refuelling stations up and down the country. We need the Government to resolve the same chicken-and-egg situation that affects hydrogen transport in the UK and help put in place the necessary storage and distribution for hydrogen transport.
My final ask is this. The Government must also resolve the current issues with the renewable transport fuel obligation, which currently excludes certain types of hydrogen. I am hopeful that the Government are able to recognise and reflect that in their response to the recent RTFO consultation.
To conclude, hydrogen can and will play a key role in public transport, but if we are to be able to realise its full benefits, we need to put in place the right policy framework to help us achieve that. The Government are working towards that, and there are programmes such as the Aberdeen bus trial and the £3 million hydrogen transport hub in Teesside, which is the first of its kind in the UK. But we must do more. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is as passionate about hydrogen as I am about nuclear, and vice versa. Those are the fuels that will power the future, and I look forward to working with her to deliver them.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray. I, too, thank the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for securing this crucial debate on the future of bus and coach manufacturers. I am also a member of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry.
Like many others, I am very proud of my local bus manufacturer in the Falkirk constituency. I know so many of the people, and their families and friends, who have worked for that company for so long—some have spent their entire life in the same business. It is a testament to that model company, how good it is and how it retains its staff for so long.
The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby covered many of the concerns in his speech, so excuse me, Mrs Murray, for reiterating some of his well-made points—they were so well put over to us all. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), the Front-Bench spokesperson, will bring in the Scottish perspective and how well we are doing in Scotland.
Let me add some context on Alexander Dennis Ltd. Alexander Dennis is the UK’s largest bus and coach manufacturer, with a market share consistently above 60%. ADL offers single and double-deck vehicles under the brands Alexander Dennis and Plaxton, and has more than 31,000 vehicles in service in Scotland, the wider UK—including, of course, here in London—Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada and the United States. It is the largest employer in the sector, with a global headcount of 2,100. In the UK, it has eight sites, employing nearly 2,000 people. They are all good, well paid and highly skilled jobs.
ADL is part of NFI Group, one of the world’s largest independent global bus manufacturers. ADL is the only bus and coach manufacturer in a position to offer custom-made buses and coaches spanning electric, hydrogen and, as of the latter part of this year, a fully autonomous bus service, as has already been said. I have watched these buses going across the Forth road bridge. It is quite scary to begin with, but they are being well tested. They will be of great benefit in improving the air quality of the whole area. I look forward to seeing them go into service. I advise anybody in this room—or anywhere else—to try to take a trip on board one. I think that would probably allay some of the fears that we would all have.
As well as UK buses being built in Falkirk and Larbert, which supports local supply chains, ADL is leading the charge for Scotland plc, setting the highest standards of engineering. A project that illustrates that is Scotland’s first built hydrogen fuel cell double-deck bus. Alexander Dennis was selected by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority as the supplier for 20 zero-emission hydrogen double-deck buses following a competitive tendering process. The 20 ADL Enviro buses are being directly purchased through the Liverpool city region’s transforming cities fund, and will be owned by the people of the city region. We have a proud history, grounded in heritage and tradition, with a long legacy in Falkirk going back as far as 1902. There are nearly 700 people employed in Falkirk and Larbert, and Larbert is the global headquarters of the business.
Alexander Dennis is committed to supporting the UK Government’s ambitions, but it is almost at breaking point and the Government need to deliver on their funding promises. The company is investing heavily in UK operations in facilities across the whole of the UK. I want the Minister to listen to this: Alexander Dennis is investing in innovation, engineering, production, apprenticeships, graduate programmes, people development, after-market support and, most importantly, a zero-emission future. These bus and coach manufacturers are well driven, but the Government are not matching their ambition, even though the policy is driven by the Government.
I have two questions for the Minister. The UK Government said that they are committed to their promise of 4,000 British-built buses. Could she outline what steps the UK Government are taking to protect British bus and coach manufacturing jobs, many of which are in my Falkirk constituency? I would like to hear about that in detail. Finally, the zero-emission bus regional areas scheme delays are unacceptable, frankly. It has been over a year. I have been outside Parliament speaking with Baroness Vere, who promised that they would arrive imminently. That has not happened, and it is unacceptable. Manufacturers were promised that the funding would result in new orders that would and could then be built in Falkirk.
The UK bus and coach industry is still desperate for a shot in the arm. It needs certainty on the delivery of that promise. If the trend of stagnation and the inertia continues, there will—no maybes—be serious consequences for the future of UK bus and coach manufacturing in the likes of Falkirk. What action are the Government taking to resolve those crucial concerns?
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray. I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) on securing the debate. I, too, am a member of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry. It is great to see such enthusiasm for buses. I was the bus Minister for the Bus Services Act 2017, and it was not that easy to generate enthusiasm from colleagues. The situation is much improved.
As has been said already, it is buses that do the heavy lifting of our public transport system. We must remember that carbon emissions from transport are 30% of our total carbon emissions. No progress on getting people to switch modes, on boosting passenger numbers on buses or on removing carbon from our bus networks will mean it is much harder for us to hit our overall net zero objectives. Thus, I strongly support the initiatives to boost the roll-out of zero-emission buses across the country. It has been happening for a little while—as bus Minister I did some of this work, but the work also predated me. The work on that goes back to the last Labour Government, when the technologies became available and the bus Ministers at the time saw the opportunities and grabbed them. It has been happening in stages over a period of time.
I was clear that the technology has presented significant opportunities, and it has been made clear in the debate so far that there are different technologies available. The points on hydrogen made by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young), who always speaks with passion and detail on this subject, were spot-on. The hydrogen opportunity is exciting and it is also changing quite fast.
We have many electric buses in Harrogate and Knaresborough already. They have been delivered by The Harrogate Bus Company and we are shortly due to have some more. There is a £20 million project, which includes £7.8 million from the county council, as part of the zero-emission bus regional areas scheme, or ZEBRA—quite a catchy name—and an investment of £12 million by Transdev, which is The Harrogate Bus Company’s parent company. That will deliver 71 new electric buses for North Yorkshire, with 45 based out of the Harrogate depot, and they will be split approximately 50:50 between single and double-decker buses. The first route to enter into service will be the busy Harrogate to Knaresborough route.
It is also worth noting that as the transition develops, with the buses entering service from summer 2023, dependent on the supply chain—that is the advice I have received from the bus company—that will include the popular 36 route, which is quite famous in the bus world. Stepping on to the No. 36 bus is like boarding an aeroplane and turning left, with libraries and charging points—it is a very comfortable experience. I hope that the Minister will visit and experience that one day.
There are a number of lessons that I would like to share with colleagues about the rolling out of electric buses. It is not as straightforward as just purchasing the buses from the manufacturers—though that is not straightforward either, as has been made clear. There are other things in play here. I want to build on some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby. He, and all colleagues, are clearly right about the environmental merits of the buses. He also mentioned the longevity of service, with buses entering service and staying there for a long period of time, while churn of the fleet is incredibly helpful in meeting our air-quality objectives. A Euro 6 bus that enters service now is probably replacing a bus from Euro 4 standards, but a Euro 6 bus emits only 4% of the pollutants of a Euro 4 bus. That is not zero-emission but, my goodness, it is significant progress, so fleet churn is quite critical.
I want to highlight some of the lessons we learned from the first phase of electric bus roll-outs in Harrogate. There were operational issues that customers did not see. Quite the opposite, in fact, because customers saw a fantastic new fleet of vehicles that are, by definition, well designed and more modern. They loved the environmental benefits and particularly liked the smooth ride, which is a feature of an electric-powered vehicle anyway, so they were popular with passengers. However, it is not that easy for them to enter service because that may require a reconfiguration of a depot and a transformation of engineering skills at the bus company. If someone has spent many decades working on large diesel vehicles, pivoting overnight to suddenly maintaining electric fleets is not possible, so significant training is required.
The biggest challenge was the electricity supply to the bus station and getting all the underlying utility works done. That was not a straightforward matter and it took a considerable time to get it all right. There are different methods of charging, and in this particular case it is like a train, so a pantograph comes out of the top of the bus, charges in the bus station and then the bus can go off and do its route around town. It is about lots of small charges that people do not even know are taking place as they get on and off the buses because there is a pantograph above them. It is very effective.
I share that information because I think it is critical that the back-office and structural work is considered in the roll-out of electric vehicles. In some parts of the country, significant work will be required to the electricity network, just as for the roll-out of electric charging points.
The hon. Member is making a sound point. I am concerned that the lack of power connections, not only to bus depots but to our ports, means that many non-standard equipment—buses, JCBs, cranes and other things—that could be electric in the future will not be because they do not have the power infrastructure. Does he agree that we need not only a bus strategy but a power strategy that works with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that those places get the resources they need to decarbonise?
Yes, getting power to the right places in the right quantities will clearly be critical. There will be areas where there are greater levels of usage, and we will need to heavily over-invest up front to make that happen. Whether that is best done through BEIS is a different question; I would suggest that a slightly more localised approach might be better. However, the point about power delivery is clearly correct, as is the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough about the up-front investment required. It is an up-front cost, followed by long periods of service. I know that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) was talking about the vehicle costs, but that up-front cost must also include the infrastructure.
That is the critical point that I want to make to the Minister. Will she please consider how the roll-out of these vehicles, whether hydrogen or electric, is done? They are fantastic vehicles, will make a huge difference to the quality of life in the areas they serve, and will help hit our net zero objectives. However, we must ensure that the infrastructure in the background is correct, so the work must take place in parallel. Getting that right will help speed the deployment of the vehicles. I know that that is her objective and that she is very passionate about doing this, so that is why I share this information today.
That is quite phenomenal timing, Mrs Murray. Thank you for calling me, and I also thank all Members for their contributions. I am sorry that I could not be here for them all. I had to go over and chair something and then come away. It was quite a run back for an old boy. I was breaking the Olympic record to get back here in time. Thank you for giving me the chance to speak.
First of all, I thank the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for leading the debate. This word is often used in this Chamber, and I will use it again because it is the right one: he has championed this case on many occasions here in Westminster Hall and in the main Chamber. He is not a stranger to this issue, so I am very pleased to hear his comments and those of others.
We are living in a very modern world where we are all more aware of emissions and the impacts they can have on our society. That is especially the case with transport, which, it is fair to say, is one of the largest emitters of carbon. We must have the correct strategies in place. I mentioned that in my earlier intervention on the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). We need an overarching strategy.
I know that the Minister is always very eager to answer on these issues, but we need a strategy for the whole of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I know that the responsibilities lie separately, but it is good to have a strategy where we can all aim for the same goal. Perhaps we can even all get there together. It is good to discuss this matter and share ideas on improving our transport modes and choices.
There is no doubt that, since the pandemic, people are less inclined to use public transport. People would say, “There’s disease, there’s covid—be careful,” so public transport probably fell out of favour for a period. That may be for hygiene reasons or because of higher transmission levels, or merely because we are not used to using public transport in the same way. However, there is a strategy in Northern Ireland.
The point the hon. Member makes is absolutely right. Many people who use buses are pensioners using their concessionary passes and, of course, they were the people who were most fearful of mixing with others on public transport during the pandemic. That was a real hit for the bus companies.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. The way in which those problems all came together was like a perfect storm. We have a strategy in Northern Ireland, as I mentioned in my intervention on the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport.
As I was saying, commuter journeys are 25% lower than pre-pandemic levels, so there is a target to achieve. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister how it will be achieved. Transport authorities in England have published a local bus service improvement plan. If Members get the chance, they should read, because it certainly does look good. It aims to increase local bus services and the number of bus lanes.
There are also plans in place to reduce our public transport emissions by phasing out the selling of non-zero emission buses by 2032. I am pleased to say that in Northern Ireland we are on the right track. Our Translink Gliders, run by Transport NI, were designed to improve the efficiency of mass transit in the city centre of Belfast by connecting areas of Belfast to outskirts of the city centre, and that comes down as far as us in Strangford and Newtownards. In 2021, the scheme was extended to the wider Belfast areas, so it took us in. Gliders use electric hybrid technology, which is a much better alternative to a purely diesel bus, so there are many things that can be done. The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred to hydrogen. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) is not here, but Wrightbus in his constituency is a leader in the field. It is really good to see that.
By using Gliders, we have been able to improve congestion, encourage the use of public transport and provide a more environmentally friendly mode of travelling. The peak year before covid was 2018-19—every year before covid was a peak year, but the covid years became peak for a different reason—with 84.5 million passenger journeys, which is a considerable contribution by many towards zero emissions. I believe that the general public wish to address the issue of emissions.
Last Thursday, I asked the Minister a question on behalf of those of us who live in rural areas. Bus travel is not always our first choice. We take other modes of transport, such as walking or cycling. For us, bus travel is about travelling from where we live in the countryside to the main towns. We have a park and ride system and can then use Gliders to get around. There are good things we can do, and the Gliders have to be emission free. It all helps with the bigger picture.
I am also pleased that a local park and ride has been approved in my constituency. That has been made official in the last month. It will enable employees who work in Belfast city centre and many others to park and avail of public transport instead of driving. People living on the Ards peninsula, Ards town or even as far as Donaghadee, close to Bangor, can come to the park and ride in Ards and then use the Glider transport. That will definitely help with the issue of zero emissions, and those zero-emission buses are part of that.
While effort has certainly been made across all areas of the United Kingdom, there is still a long way to go. The United Kingdom has a target to reach net zero by 2050, but that will not come from England alone. We all support the commitments made at COP26 and by our COP26 President, but there must be a joint approach. Although NI transport policies come from Translink, a funded body with a different arrangement than that on the mainland, we must ensure there is parallel discussion to reach our target goals. I know that the Minister is very agreeable to my points. She always responds and has those discussions with me. The Minister does not need to answer today, though I would be very pleased if her civil servants were able to give an idea of what discussions have taken place with Ministers at the Northern Ireland Assembly and, in particular, Transport NI.
Some £525 million has been allocated for England to support the delivery of zero-emission buses. Some £320 million of that has already been allocated, with the remainder due to be allocated by 2024. Funding is an instrumental part of ensuring that we can meet our targets, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to that. It is good to see the Minister in her place to back that up as well.
I encourage the COP26 President and the Transport Secretary in particular to engage with our Infrastructure Minister and the relevant bodies back home to assess how the devolved Assemblies can play their part in meeting our levelling-up and transport targets. We will play our part in Northern Ireland, because we believe we have a big role to play. Northern Ireland’s first zero-emission buses have made their way on to the streets this year. We must ensure that we continue this progression to hydrogen and battery-electric transport across the UK in order to have an efficient bus strategy and sustainable green transport. I know that we all want to see that, and we know the Minister has been given the task.
I look forward to hearing from both shadow Ministers—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands)—who are from this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, always better together, and I hope we can devise a strategy to energise us all, every region together.
I am going to call the Front-Bench spokespeople now, but I would like to leave a couple of minutes at the end for the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) to make his winding-up speech. First, I call Gavin Newlands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Murray, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry, on securing this important debate. The right hon. Gentleman led us off rather well by setting the scene on the issues facing the sector and pointing out that, despite the rhetoric, orders for the 4,000 buses are not coming through. He said that the Government’s delivery timetable seems to be sliding. I will touch on that in my speech.
The right hon. Gentleman also talked about progress in Northern Ireland, which I found a little strange because in Scotland we have, by a long way, more zero-emission buses on the road per capita than anywhere else in the UK.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) mentioned that there are many more people travelling on buses than on trains, which I will cover as well, and talked up hydrogen and the need for a hydrogen network around Plymouth and its many hills. He also mentioned the impact of zero-emission buses and low-emission zones on air quality, on which I agree absolutely.
It came as no surprise to anybody that the hon. Member for Redcar (Jacob Young), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen, spoke up on the issue of hydrogen and mentioned other uses for it, such as zero-emission flying. He also referred to ZeroAvia, which I have met as well, and which is working with Loganair in my constituency on zero-emission flying.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) rightly spoke of the excellence in engineering manufacturing at Alexander Dennis Ltd in his constituency. I look forward to visiting ADL over the summer recess. My hon. Friend also spoke about investment, apprenticeships and graduate schemes, which show that we are investing in people as well as a zero-emission future.
The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) spoke of the welcome increase in parliamentary interest in buses since he left his role as bus Minister. I am sure there is no correlation whatever. The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the 71 buses that North Yorkshire secured through the ZEBRA scheme and the first routes identified if and when the buses are delivered.
The inimitable hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about Wrightbus not only on behalf of his colleague the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), but in relation to the issues and opportunities for rural transport. Indeed, I have spoken regularly about zero-emission buses since my appointment as SNP transport spokesperson. Driving that is the fact that buses are fundamental to public transport. No other mode of transport has their flexibility and capacity, particularly in urban and suburban areas.
As we have seen over recent weeks, no form of transport gets more attention than rail, which has been mentioned. The strikes across the network were headline news all that week, but yesterday huge swathes of the road network ground to a halt due to protesters campaigning against the high cost of fuel. Today’s papers mention that briefly, but try finding a bus strike being reported in such depth as the rail dispute, even though buses carry far more people than trains every day of the week.
We need to make buses more high profile and more attractive, which requires more investment and new vehicles, but also other infrastructure. Investment in zero-emission vehicles will be for nothing if we cannot drive a modal shift on to buses and away from private transport. That is why the bus partnership fund set up by the Scottish Government is so important, providing funding to local transport authorities to work with bus operators in identifying bricks-and-mortar improvements to bus infrastructure. We should add that to the extensive concessionary travel scheme under which anyone in Scotland aged under 22 or over 60 pays nothing to travel on a local bus. The investment going into not only our infrastructure, but on making bus travel financially attractive, is unprecedented since devolution.
Bus still has the highest modal share of any means of public transport, although that share has been dropping over the long term, both north and south of the border. If we are serious about the climate emergency, that trend must be reversed. The new green, clean buses are one aspect of the picture for commuters and leisure travellers to make the switch, even if only for part of their journey.
The new under-22 free bus pass aims to get younger folk into the habit of using public transport, because over the past few decades many young people have spent their years growing up being driven in private cars by family members. Over recent years, the Scottish Government have put real zero-emission buses on the roads. They are in use every day to transport thousands of passengers, including in my own constituency, with much more to follow in the coming years. Indeed, Renfrewshire, which I represent, has more zero-emission buses on the road than any other area on these isles bar London.
I would not seek to compete with Renfrewshire, but does my hon. Friend agree that organisations such as Community Transport Glasgow, which is based in the Shettleston area of my constituency, are also doing their bit and playing their part on the path towards net zero? Will he commend Graham Dunn, who runs Community Transport Glasgow, for the work that it is doing to try to make that journey in Glasgow?
I do indeed congratulate Graham Dunn and Community Transport Glasgow in Shettleston. My hon. Friend has spoken to me about this on a couple of occasions. Of course, I welcome competition to Renfrewshire from other areas, but it will have to go some way to draw level with Renfrewshire.
Despite all that progress, a lot more still needs to be done, but the trajectory that Scotland is on is very clear—a fully decarbonised public transport network, encompassing bus and rail, by the middle of the next decade, providing everyone in the country with the option of making a real difference in the fight against climate change.
By contrast, the Transport Committee, on which I sit, heard some instructive evidence from the bus operators themselves last month. The managing director of Go-Ahead reported that less than 0.6% of its fleet across England is zero-emission, while the commercial director of Transdev said that the equivalent figure for his company is 2%. That Committee session took place after the Secretary of State confirmed to it that of the 4,000 zero-emission buses promised by his Government by the end of this Parliament, only 51 of the ZEBRA scheme buses are on the road in England.
I am curious about that, though, because the answers that I have received from the Department state that zero buses had been ordered through the ZEBRA scheme since funding was made available, but it hoped that orders would go in later this year. Another answer stated that 50 buses were on the road, but that might relate to previous schemes. Could the Minister clear this up in her closing remarks? Two and a half years have passed since the pledge for 4,000 buses. First, how many have actually been ordered? Secondly, how many are on the road? And thirdly, when will all of the 4,000 buses actually be delivered?
The Transport Committee also heard from Switch Mobility, one of Britain’s biggest bus manufactures. It believes that, on current plans, 2,000 zero-emission buses can be delivered by early 2024, but that the Government face “a serious challenge” in delivering the other 2,000 that they have pledged by the end of 2024. It is also unlikely that there will be an election in December 2024. So far, that challenge has been wholly unmet by the Department for Transport. The 4,000 bus pledge has been made by everyone from the Prime Minister down, but as with so much else, the relationship between utterances from the Dispatch Box and the real world of hard facts has only a passing resemblance to the truth.
Last Thursday, the Secretary of State, in answering a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who has many Alexander Dennis workers in his constituency, said that they would see 4,000 buses on the road by the end of this Parliament. In March, he said the same and that we are on track to do so. Yet, as we heard in the opening speech today, all the evidence from the industry and, quite frankly, from basic arithmetic shows that that is patently not the case—unless the UK Government want to include the buses ordered by the Scottish Government. Transport is, of course, devolved, so any policy or pledge by the UK Government cannot include figures from Scotland, as the Scottish Government are free to do as they wish on transport policy. Could the Minister confirm in her closing remarks that the 4,000 bus pledge refers only to England, because that is all that the current constitutional set-up actually permits?
It is a shocking indictment of the priorities of the Department and of the UK Government that more than a year has passed since the publication of the national bus strategy, complete with a foreword from the Prime Minister in which he tried to convince us how big a fan of buses he actually is—except, perhaps, when he is travelling back from Cornwall on a Government jet. The ZEBRA scheme that was intended to drive that 4,000 pledge in full has delivered so little, while continuing to promise much more.
England deserves better—much better. While the Secretary of State takes every opportunity to film another epic for TikTok, other Governments on these isles are getting on with the job of transport decarbonisation. Already, 300 buses have been delivered under the Scottish ultra-low-emission bus scheme. If we multiply that by 10, that gives us 3,000, which is the number that could be delivered in an English context. Now, with the roll-out of ScotZEB—the Scottish zero-emission bus challenge fund—a further 276 buses are on the way, with £62 million of additional funding. All in all, Scotland’s zero emission bus fleet will be the equivalent of over 5,500 buses on the road in England. That is astonishing progress, given the budgetary constraints imposed on the Scottish Parliament and the challenges that the past few years have thrown our way.
Moreover, picking up on a point made by the former buses Minister, the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, the bus emissions abatement retrofit scheme—or BEAR, which is easier to say—has seen over 700 mid-life buses retrofitted to the latest Euro 6 standard in Scotland since low emission zones were announced, and a further 379 are to be fitted under the current round of funding. For context, per capita, if that policy were to be introduced in England, it would cover nearly 11,000 buses. There is no reason why England should lag so far behind Scotland: it is in all our interests to make the transition to net zero transport as quick and seamless as possible. Decarbonisation is a net benefit for each of the nations, but also benefits our global efforts to tackle climate change and, in turn, make public transport a more attractive option.
Whether it is zero-emission buses, active travel—on which we will soon see nearly nine times more per head spent in Scotland than in England—electric vehicles, rail electrification, driving modal shift, or public electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the UK Government are so far behind the Scottish Government that it is embarrassing. I urge the DFT—or, in slight defence of the DFT, perhaps it is more likely to be the Treasury—to talk to its colleagues in Edinburgh, learn lessons from what is clearly working in Scotland, and roll that out in England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship for the first time, Mrs Murray. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby—an absolutely beautiful place, where I have spent a lot of my holidays over the years—on securing this important debate.
First, it is important to set the wider context. It is just months since the Prime Minister launched the centrepiece of his levelling-up agenda, the national bus strategy. He trumpeted from the hilltops his love for buses, and how his Bus Back Better strategy would address the vast disparities between services in London and those in the rest of the country. Less than a year on, the Government’s ambition—limited from the outset—has declined even further to a point at which the funding could realistically only satisfy the ambitions of two transport authorities. Prior to the pandemic, more journeys were made on buses than on any other form of public transport—almost 4.5 billion. However, due to 12 years of Conservative cuts, the loss of 134 million miles of bus lanes and an inadequate statutory framework, those vital transport links have been left to decay. Bus coverage is now the lowest it has been in decades. According to the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that there are now what it terms “transport deserts” in rural communities. Austerity has seen this Government slash public subsidies for buses: more than 5,000 bus routes have been cut across the country, leading to passenger numbers slumping by 10%, while fares have more than doubled.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. Does she agree that many people who do not have a car and rely on bus services also rely on other types of public transport, such as trains? Does she worry, as I do, that if we see continued industrial disruption of our train services, many people will end up buying a car and will not only be lost to the trains in future, but to the buses? Will she join me in condemning the strike action that will hit hardest the people who are most vulnerable: those who do not have cars?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The paragraph I have just read out answers his question: over 12 years of Conservative Government, we have seen a massive decline in passenger usage, and as a former member of the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, I can tell him that what we really need is better investment in the buses. What passengers want is reliability, affordability, and—particularly if we are talking about net zero—a comprehensive charging strategy, but that is not what is on the table.
In my region of South Yorkshire alone, one third of routes are at risk, and only one bus in the whole of South Yorkshire will be en route after 10.30 pm. That is how bad it is: one third of our bus services are going to be cut. That is no way to be now, when we are aiming to achieve net zero. We should be aiming to build the confidence of passengers, and the way we do that is affordability, reliability, and—in future—proper charging facilities.
Is the hon. Lady able to tell us whether the Mayor of South Yorkshire has responsibility for transport in South Yorkshire, like the Mayor of London has responsibility for transport in London? Will she join me in condemning the fact that the Mayor of London is seeking to cancel a whole swathe of bus services in our capital city?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the Mayor of South Yorkshire runs South Yorkshire buses. He has only just been appointed, but prior to that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who, with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), worked on a total review of our buses, and the Government turned it down. It is a problem for us that it has now come to this. One of the reasons the Government turned it down is that they halved the levelling-up budget. Their decision to do that is why we are in the pickle we are in now.
I will come on to talk about the Mayor of South Yorkshire, but if the Government announce that a certain amount of money is available, then cut it by half, there will be cuts to the bids that have been put in, as has happened in South Yorkshire. It is despicable. This is not levelling up; it is managed decline.
The national bus strategy was an opportune moment for the Government to right the many wrongs of failed deregulation, but it offered nothing for those who were looking for a bold vision to reverse the loss of millions of miles of bus routes across the country. It was a missed opportunity for the Government to revolutionise the bus industry and ensure that funds are properly directed to deliver the transition to electric and low-emission vehicles that they promised.
What is more, the Government are already backtracking on their meagre progress. Ministers have announced funding for less than half of the 79 areas that bid for funding. Even those that were successful got less than they asked for. Liverpool City Region asked for £667 million and got just £12.3 million. The reality is that the Tories promised transformational investment in bus services, but millions of passengers are instead seeing managed decline. The Tories have dramatically downgraded the ambitions of local communities and slashed bus services nationwide. That is proof that they simply will not and cannot deliver for the people who need it most.
The Conservatives want communities to put up with shockingly bad bus and rail services. Meanwhile, Labour in power across the country is fighting for better. Labour leaders in power have a simple transformative vision to make buses cheaper, greener, faster and more reliable. Labour Mayors are using their devolved powers and funding to bring down the cost of living and put more money in people’s pockets. They are making local public transport—buses in particular—better and more affordable. Andy Burnham, Tracy Brabin and Steve Rotheram, to name just a few, are investing millions of pounds in new routes and services. The Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, recently introduced free travel on buses on Sundays. What is more, bus fares are set to be capped at £2, saving passengers up to £1.50 in West Yorkshire, and in some cases more than £2 in Greater Manchester. Steve Rotheram has also announced plans to bring buses back under public control so that he can build a London-style system that will make travelling around cheaper, greener and more reliable.
Meanwhile, Oliver Coppard has made improving public transport the centrepiece of his mayoralty. That follows the work of his predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central, who gave the green light for the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to investigate franchising. Oliver Coppard is fighting the Tory bus cuts, which represent a betrayal of communities across South Yorkshire.
That is the backdrop. The truth is that we cannot afford more Conservative failure. We need a bus service that is fit for the climate crisis and creates good-quality, reliable jobs across communities that are victims of rural poverty. The 4,000 zero-emission buses that the Government announced represent a tiny proportion of the buses on the road, and even that limited ambition is crumbling under scrutiny. The Government have still not specified how the remaining 2,000 buses of their 4,000-bus commitment will be funded. They will not tell us how many are on the road. That uncertainty is hampering manufacturers’ ability to develop a short or medium-term business plan, and is therefore impeding their ability to commit to further investment in the UK. As the APPG for the bus and coach industry has stated, it is highly unlikely that 4,000 buses will be on the road by the end of this Parliament, even if funding is allocated for their purchase. So far, very few orders have been placed with UK manufacturers through the ZEBRA scheme, which is having a detrimental impact on the order books of UK manufacturers.
The UK manufacturing industry should be leading the way in the creation of zero-emission buses—I completely agree with the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), but we simply do not know what proportion is manufactured in the UK. Labour party research has revealed that, far from supporting British manufacturers, ZEBRA funding has been used for hundreds of Pelican Yutong buses from China. The Department’s own website features an article boasting about the £200 million boost to businesses, alongside a photo of a Chinese bus. Can the Minister guarantee that all buses that the Government support through the ZEBRA scheme will be made in the UK? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that pledge is maintained, given that this is a direct opportunity to support UK manufacturing jobs?
Zero-emission buses have the potential to contribute markedly to the decarbonisation of the transport sector. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) said that if we sorted all the buses out now, we would cut emissions by one third, because we know that one third of emissions comes from homes, one third from business and one third from public transport. That is a quick win if the Government wanted to sort it out and focus more investment on buses.
Most of all, the Government have to increase passenger numbers, because without those passenger numbers, buses are not of much use. That is the key. We badly need the Government to rebuild the manufacturing sector. It is important that other small companies, rather than the big ones that we have heard about, are allowed in to make this country’s manufacturing base more successful and gain more investment.
The clean transport revolution should mean not only cleaner air and reduced emissions for UK towns and cities but tens of thousands of jobs for British people. British manufacturers should not miss out on these opportunities. The Government need to get their act together—and fast. We need to solve this problem in a positive way for the country, for users and for businesses that would then employ workforce.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mrs Murray. It is also a pleasure to respond to this debate. I would like to begin by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) for securing the debate. We have stretched on that subject and I am very happy to respond on all the matters that have been raised.
I hope that I can reassure Members, and I will set out how I will take further action, which will start with a visit to Alexander Dennis. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, one of the benefits of my trip of Ballymena was visiting Wrightbus and seeing for myself the ingenuity with which that company had been turned around, increasing employees, and diversifying production with both battery electric buses and hydrogen. It is helpful to see that in action and to appreciate the amount of UK content that Wrightbus so proudly talked about.
I forgot to invite the Minister to Scarborough to come to the factory, and to meet a company called Mellor that is intending to build another factory to build smaller buses on the Scarborough site using the skills that we already have in the town.
I am delighted to accept that invitation, and I pledge to visit both Alexander Dennis and Mellor during the summer recess. Buses are at the centre of public transport networks. We have all talked about that this morning. They have an essential role to play to achieve net zero, driving that green transformation and creating the cleaner, healthier places that we all want to live in.
I will begin by setting out what we have done and how we are investing £525 million of funding to support the introduction of zero-emission buses over the course of this Parliament. There have been many questions about how many buses there are and which part of the UK they are in. The indicative funding shows that we have funded 2,921 buses across the UK. The breakdown for that funding is 84 buses in Wales, 138 in Northern Ireland, 548 in Scotland, and 2,151 in England. Not all of them are on the road.
The caveat is that the UK has funded the buses. How the Scottish Government want to use the money from the UK Government is, of course, up to them. I am being absolutely clear that the indicative funding has supported zero-emission buses across the UK.
In response to the hon. Member for Strangford, clearly the climate has no boundaries, so we need to work together—all four corners of the United Kingdom—to solve the grand challenge of decarbonising our transport system, which is what I am setting out. I also want to make it clear that not all of the zero-emission buses are on the road. Many of them will be ordered this year, and I hope to take further action to chivvy that on, because I absolutely understand why we want to support British innovation, manufacturing and apprenticeships, the training and graduate opportunities, and the value that British manufacturing provides to our communities right across the country. That is where we are on the numbers.
One thousand, two hundred and seventy-eight zero-emission buses have been supported through funding from both rounds of the zero-emission bus regional area scheme, or ZEBRA—a new kind of horsepower. We have announced nearly £270 million in funding to 17 areas through both the fast track and standard process of the scheme. As Ministers, we are super-keen to ensure that that progress continues. I am keeping a keen eye on it, and it is really pleasing to hear from officials that the 17 areas funded through the scheme are now progressing towards the delivery of their projects.
I really welcome the news that Stagecoach, working with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, has placed orders for all the buses for its project. The remaining successful areas are at various stages of conducting their procurement processes. It is great to note that Kent County Council launched its tender for vehicles earlier this year, and I expect to see the introduction of further procurement competitions in the coming months. I anticipate that further orders for buses will be placed following the conclusion of the procurement processes, and I also expect to see the majority of buses funded through the ZEBRA scheme to be on the road in local communities around the country by March 2024—that is the latest indicative date I have at the moment for those funded buses to be on the road.
Additionally, up to 300 zero-emission buses will be supported through the Coventry all-electric bus city project, which is supported by £50 million in funding for the West Midlands Combined Authority. This will ensure that every single bus in the city of Coventry is zero emission by 2025, and I was really pleased to see that the first order for 130 electric buses was placed in December 2021. I therefore anticipate that they will be on the roads of Coventry by autumn this year.
Furthermore, more than 100 zero-emission buses have been supported through the ultra-low emission bus scheme, with hundreds more zero-emission buses supported in London as a result of Government funding. We must build on that and go further by introducing even more zero-emission buses. There is more than £200 million of dedicated funding for ZEBs over the remainder of the spending review period, and the Department can provide more information on how the funding will be allocated in due course. To further incentivise the transition, we also introduced an uplift for ZEBs through the bus service operators grant in April 2022.
There has been much discussion today of different areas and particularly of the stimulus for the bus industry. I feel confident that the combination of future funding and incoming orders can provide that stimulus. UK bus manufacturers are well placed to benefit from those orders, which will support new green skilled jobs in local communities such as Scarborough and Whitby and help to spark a clean recovery for the sector.
While I am aware that 4,000 buses are a good starting point, they are only a starting point, representing approximately 10% of the overall fleet. We need to go further and faster to decarbonise the entire bus fleet—indeed, the entire transport network—across the country. That is why, as stated in the national bus strategy, we are committed to setting an end date for the sale of new diesel buses, with an expectation for when the entire bus fleet will be zero emission to be announced shortly. To support those ambitions, in March of this year, we consulted to determine when to end the sale of new non-zero-emission buses and launched calls for evidence on decarbonising our coach and minibus fleets.
My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young)—surprise, surprise—bigged up hydrogen. He and I share a passion for industrial communities really benefiting from hydrogen production capacity, which the Prime Minister has doubled to 10 GW. Our approach to the delivery of zero-emission buses is technology-neutral. Local areas under the ZEBRA scheme could apply for funding for both battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses, depending on the technology best suited to them. However, I understand that we must drive down the cost by driving up the market and driving up demand. That is why we are funding hydrogen buses and also zero-emission road freight demonstrators, which are not limited to buses and more about supporting heavy goods vehicles. The Department for Transport is investing £200 million across hydrogen, battery electric and catenary to understand where heavy goods vehicles will need to be charged in future. I hope that will increase the number of publicly available hydrogen refuelling stations across the UK from the current 14.
It is also interesting to respond to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), because I was in Sheffield visiting ITM, which is a fantastic British company investing to provide some of the world’s biggest—if not the world’s biggest—gigawatt production of electrolysers. The Government are backing hydrogen and I work closely with BEIS. The Department for Transport is creating that demand, and we have set out the certainty that the hydrogen economy has an incredibly bright future in Britain under this Government. On 26 March, the Government announced that the West Midlands Combined Authority has received funding from the ZEBRA scheme to support the introduction of 124 hydrogen buses and refuelling infrastructure, in the country’s largest ever hydrogen bus project. Meanwhile, the Advanced Propulsion Centre supported an investment of £11.2 million to develop and manufacture low-cost hydrogen fuel cell technology for buses and create a hydrogen centre of excellence with Wrightbus in Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
I have been blessed with sharing the debate with two former Transport Ministers, my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough for his point about the infrastructure, which is right. As we embark on this transport revolution, we need to ensure that it works for everyone, everywhere. That is why I work closely with BEIS, Ofgem, National Grid and the distribution network operators across the country to ensure that we have the connectivity for electric and the generation capable of supporting the transport revolution. Without that, we clearly will not be in a fit position.
I have set out the commitment from the Department, and across Government, to zero-emission buses. I would like to go further to understand how we can support British-built buses. The supply chain for ZEBs is global, and UK manufacturing sources key components, such as vehicle batteries, from foreign-based companies. Foreign-based companies are expected to continue to play an important role in the supply of ZEBs for the UK market. I want to explore whether there are other relevant factors—I am sure there are—that we can build into that requirement that may help to encourage competitive bids from UK firms, without compromising wider commercial outcomes and delivery. I will take that away, and I look forward to updating Alexander Dennis when I visit the company during the summer recess.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I am conscious of the time. I mentioned in my speech that transport is devolved and that, for that reason, the 4,000 bus pledge must be England-only. Can she confirm whether the 4,000 bus pledge is UK-wide?
I will have to come back to the hon. Member on that point. I am not aware of what has been said. The climate sees no boundaries, so if the Scottish Government are making particular progress, let us meet and understand how we can learn from each other. That is the grown-up thing to do.
In conclusion, it has been a pleasure to set out what the Government are doing and what more we need to do. I hope I have reassured my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby about the Government’s commitment and determination and the fact that we acknowledge that there is more work to do. I thank all Members for their contributions, their support for the bus sector and their enthusiasm for the decarbonisation of the transport system. We know that emissions from the transport sector represent the overwhelming majority of emissions in the UK. That is why we are putting so much Government investment into road, rail, aviation and local communities to ensure that there is the infrastructure to support the transport revolution the UK needs.
I thank all colleagues who have contributed to the debate. What is clear is that we are all on the same page. We all want to deliver the same things—not only the carbon dioxide reductions that zero-emission buses will deliver but the air-quality improvements we want to see in our town centres. To use the word the Minister used, I am pleased that this meeting may well have “chivvied” her and her Department into understanding the importance of getting those orders on to the production line. There is a real risk that Chinese opposition—companies in China do not play under the same rules, and the state there is more interventionist—could result in Chinese companies taking the lion’s share of orders in the future. That would be a disaster for innovation and jobs in the UK.
Let us not forget that if we manufacture buses in the UK, business rates, income tax and corporation tax—hopefully, at some point in the future—are paid in the UK. A lot of that money stays in the UK if those orders are placed here. I hope we have chivvied the Minister to chivvy her officials and local authorities around the country to get on the front foot and deliver those buses. We must not forget that buses that are delivered in 2030 will still be on the road in 2050, so we urgently need to get on with it.
The Minister has made it clear that the Government have put their money where their mouth is—£525 million is a lot of money. Unfortunately, we have not seen that being delivered as quickly as possible, for a variety of reasons. While the pandemic does get blamed for an awful lot of things, it did actually have a real impact on some of the bus operating companies and the local authorities delivering bus services.
I thank everybody who has participated in the debate. I ask the Minister to pass on my thanks, and the thanks of the all-party parliamentary group, to Baroness Vere, who has been very keen to engage with us. We took her to see various zero-emission buses on the Embankment, and she was absolutely convinced, as I am, that we can deliver for Britain. We can deliver clean buses and good, clean jobs, and, as we move forward into the run-up to 2050, buses and public transport will have their part to play.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).