Whether for commuting to work or seeing friends and family, buses play an important role in keeping communities connected, with 4.4 billion passenger journeys a year. Between 2015 and 2017, the number of live local bus services registered increased by 14% in England and by 6% in Wales.
My constituents have had to face a 480% rise in the cost of their children’s bus passes in the past five years. The No. 14 bus connecting Canterbury to rural east Kent villages was cut in September, and replaced by only a twice-daily bus service. This is just one of the cuts proposed by Kent County Council. What steps is the Minister taking to protect much needed rural bus routes from being cut by cash-strapped local authorities?
Local authorities receive a substantial amount of money from central Government to support bus services. The Government paid out some £250 million last year to support bus services in England. Kent County Council receives over £1 million per year, and Canterbury City Council receives over £83,000 per year. The hon. Lady mentioned bus fares. They rose almost three times faster every year under Labour than under the Conservatives, with local bus fares across Great Britain rising by an average of 1.9% each year in real terms. Bus fares go up under Labour.
The hon. Gentleman from the Opposition Front Bench needs to be very brief, because time is against us, but we are happy to hear from the fella.
May I, too, wish the NHS a very happy birthday?
Nearly 500 bus routes have been cut every year under this Government, snatching away a lifeline from elderly, disabled and young people, as well as from rural communities, yet the Government seem unaware of the impact of these cuts. I have to say that the Prime Minster floundered yesterday, and sought to blame local authorities. Does the Minister share that view, or does she accept the undeniable truth that her Government have totally mismanaged bus provision in this country?
Bus passes for the most vulnerable, older and disabled people are being supported by this Government with £1 billion, enabling 10 million people up and down this country to travel for free. As you may be aware, Mr Speaker, this is Catch the Bus Week, so the hon. Gentleman could have said something about bus services to encourage people to jump on the bus. There are good case studies up and down the country. In Liverpool, for example, young people are taking buses 142% more than they did in the previous three years. In Bristol, bus patronage has gone up by 42%, and in South Gloucestershire by 38%. There are good case histories of places up and down this country where bus patronage is going up.
I appreciate the fact that the hon. Lady has mentioned Catch the Bus Week. Rural communities have been hit particularly hard by the crisis in our bus services. Interestingly, we have visited Northamptonshire—bankrupt Tory Northamptonshire, I should say—which has one of the worst track records for cutting services. What would the Minister say to the resident I met yesterday, who told me there is no bus to take her child to school and that an older daughter has been unable to take up her preferred job option because there is no bus service?
Bus service provision is the responsibility of local authorities. About £800 million of funding is made available for concessionary bus fares, and £40 million is given directly to local authorities to support journeys that might not otherwise be profitable. As I mentioned earlier, there are local authorities working hand in hand with bus companies to make sure services are viable and attractive. May I just mention one? In Brighton and Hove, bus patronage has gone up by 22% since 2009-10.
The Minister is a treasure trove of previously unearthed information, for which we are extremely grateful.