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Bus Services

Volume 733: debated on Thursday 8 June 2023

7. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the number of bus services since 2019. (905164)

12. What assessment he has made of the impact of the £2 fare cap on the number of bus journeys since that cap was introduced. (905170)

20. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the number of bus services since 2019. (905179)

The Government have invested more than £3.5 billion in buses since March 2020, including our recently announced package of up to £300 million to protect and improve services long term, and up to £200 million to continue capping bus fares on thousands of routes in England outside London until November next year. That funding is helping to ensure that those who use the bus every day to live, work and travel can continue to do so for less.

The Government recently announced huge investment to improve and protect bus services, but in my part of the world Arriva has chosen to cherry-pick the most profitable routes, ditching others such as the 17 and leaving youngsters unable to get to school, adults unable get to work and pensioners cut off from health services. Will my right hon. Friend work with me to prevent bus operators from putting profit before people and to see what can be done to protect services in Stockton South?

I am confident that my hon. Friend will campaign in his area to protect those bus services. The additional £300 million includes £1.5 million for the Tees Valley, which will help local transport authorities and bus operators to protect and improve their services. We expect them to work together to deliver sustainable networks. I know he will campaign strongly to ensure that a share of that extra money from Government goes to protect services to his constituents.

In January, I was glad to hear that Transport North East’s decarbonisation bid for our bus services had been successful. I now understand that subsidy control procedures mean that none of the electric buses have yet been ordered, let alone delivered, and I fear we may run out of time under the terms of the grant or get fewer buses for our money because of inflation. We need those electric buses in the north-east, so will the Secretary of State meet me to ensure we get them on the road as soon as possible?

I am glad that the hon. Lady gives me an opportunity to remind the House that Transport North East has been awarded £19.5 million as part of round 2 of the levelling up fund, which delivers those buses. There are some appropriate checks that must take place, and I hope she will also welcome the fact that the North East and North of Tyne Combined Authorities got £117.8 million for their bus service improvement plans to deliver better bus services for her constituents.

Rural bus services such as the 84, 85 and 622 services in south Gloucestershire are vital for residents to commute to work, get to school and attend health appointments, but they are under real pressure. South Gloucestershire Council has stepped in to provide a temporary fix for the 84 and 85 services, but will the Secretary of State urge the council and the West of England Mayor to work together to find a permanent solution for those services, using the improvement plan subsidies provided to them, so that residents in villages such as Charfield, Wickwar, Hawkesbury Upton, Rangeworthy and Tytherington are not cut off from having any bus services at all?

As the Environment Secretary set out earlier this week, the Government are committed to unlocking opportunities in rural areas in particular, and local transport connectivity is crucial to that. The extra money we set out will help to protect services, and I can confirm that I would expect local councils and the West of England Mayor to work together to deliver those. I forgot to say in my previous answer to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) that I will of course make sure that the roads Minister meets her to talk about her specific question about her buses.

Recently, Arriva gave up its subsidised 57A route, which goes through my constituency. The council has struggled to find an alternative operator because the Government have banned it from creating its own bus company—one that could serve the local community, which is left struggling to access key local services and even to get to work. Does the Minister agree that it is long overdue and common sense to end the ideological ban on municipal bus companies?

The hon. Lady should recognise that, as I said in answer to the previous question, the North East Combined Authority and the North of Tyne Combined Authority were awarded £117.8 million to deliver their ambitious bus service improvement plan. That is the mechanism that we have set up for local authorities to have ambitious plans to work with bus operators to deliver better services for constituents, properly funded from central Government. I hope that they use that revenue and those powers to deliver the improved bus services that she wants.

I am pleased that the Government’s latest bus deal lasts longer than the usual three months, but as ever, there are winners and losers. Last year, both Southampton and Swindon applied for zero-emission bus funding. They got nothing. They applied for BSIP funding, and how much did they get, Secretary of State? Nothing. Last month, every council finally received something, but Southampton and Swindon got barely £1 million between them, amounting to a pathetic £2 per person. Can he explain why areas such as Southampton and Swindon have got so little to fix their broken bus systems?

I am pleased that, in his question, the hon. Gentleman sort of welcomed the £500 million that we made available for buses in our announcement last month, which was welcome and provides money to every local authority and to bus companies. There is a formula by which that money is awarded—it is not awarded on a whim; it is based on mileage and usage, and is done in a sensible way—and the money was awarded fairly under that process. As I said in answer to the previous question, it is all very well criticising us, but we set out clear plans to support bus services in our announcement last month. Labour Members have made no pledges on buses; it is all on rail. Is that because ASLEF pays their wages and they are not interested in buses, which twice as many people use compared with rail services?