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Bus Services

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 2 March 2023

11. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the number of bus services in England since 2019. (903828)

Covid-19 resulted in significant reductions to bus service levels and passenger numbers. To mitigate that, the Government have provided more than £2 billion in emergency and recovery funding to keep vital bus services running. On 17 February, we announced a further extension to that support until 30 June. As a result, bus service provision in England outside London remained at more than 85% of pre-covid levels in 2021-22, despite patronage and commercial fare revenue remaining significantly lower.

Stagecoach bus services from Doncaster to Worksop—numbers 21, 22 and 25—have daily cancellations due to driver shortages that have been going on for a long time. Posts are put on the Tickhill Community Forum on Facebook by Clare Cutts every day. At a time when we need to shop more locally and support our economy, what more can we do to put pressure on bus companies to deliver the services that we need?

My hon. Friend, who is a champion for his Don Valley constituency, raises an important issue. I know how important local bus services are to him and to people across the country, and how constituents can be frustrated by service cancellations. Bus operators are facing a number of challenges, which the Government continue to work with the sector to address. I look forward to meeting him in Don Valley in the coming weeks to discuss the issue further with him and other operators.

On Monday evening, I got a letter from Arriva North West about 13 bus routes being scrapped and two depots being closed in the Northwich part of my constituency, as a result of a strategy called “Bus Back Better”. What is better about that? What will the Minister do to ensure that my constituents can get to their place of work, school or college and go about their everyday business? I ask him to step in.

The hon. Member raises some important questions. I know that Conservative colleagues have met Arriva in recent days, and I met my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) about the Arriva issues in the area yesterday. My understanding is that D&G Bus is already looking to provide some of the services that Arriva has decided to remove itself from. I note the hon. Member’s concern about the issue and if he would like to meet me, I would be delighted.

Effective and reliable public transport is essential for our local communities. Reductions in local services in Blyth Valley, including the X10 and X11 to Newcastle, mean that my constituents plan their journeys only to find that the buses are late or simply not coming at all. Many groups who are already at a disadvantage, including the young, the old and people on a low income, rely on those vital services to access healthcare, education and leisure. It is critical that we do not let them down. Will my hon. Friend assure me that we will do everything we can to ensure that those bus services run effectively?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Government know how important bus services are to local communities across the country, which is why we recently announced additional investment of £155 million not only to continue protecting those services but to ensure a three-month extension to the £2 cap on bus fares to help working people in places such as Blyth Valley who are getting out there every day. We want to help to address the cost of living crisis and encourage people back on to our network. We are committed to working with the sector to ensure that bus services reflect the needs of communities and deliver our ambition for everyone with access everywhere.

I do not expect the Minister to know about the 31 bus route in Plymouth, but I do expect him to care about the people who can no longer get that bus because it has been axed—the older people who cannot get to their GP or hospital appointments as easily or bring back their shopping from town. Will the Minister agree to adopt Labour’s policy of handing power over bus routes back to communities? Will he finally give the south-west its fair share of bus funding?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. Plymouth City Council receives £85,000 a year through the bus service operators grant and has been allocated a total of £599,000 in emergency and recovery funding for bus services since March 2020. I would be delighted to look at that further, and look forward to visiting Plymouth in the near future.

In 2020, the Government promised to deliver 4,000 zero-emission buses in this Parliament, but just 341 have been ordered, and only six are on our roads. At this rate, it will take 23 years to meet that target, and we will not get diesel buses off our roads completely until the end of the century. With manufacturers ready to deliver a brighter, greener future for Britain’s buses, when will the Minister get out of first gear and match their ambition?

The hon. Member has clearly missed our announcement this morning of extra buses across the country—an extra £25 million going into York, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and delivering 3,452 zero-emission buses, to date, on that 4,000 target, so we will definitely get there before the end of the Parliament.