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Bus Services: Newcastle

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 19 January 2023

1. What assessment he has made of trends in the quality, availability and accessibility of bus services in Newcastle since 2019. (903132)

In response to the Government’s national bus strategy, all local transport authorities in England outside London, including Transport North East, produced bus service improvement plans. Following a detailed assessment process, we have awarded TNE an indicative allocation of £163.5 million to support the delivery of its BSIP, which covers seven local authorities, including Newcastle City Council.

In December, ahead of the launch of the Government’s £2 bus fare on 1 January, I visited the north-east, including Blaydon and Newcastle, and the Go North East depot. I was pleased to hear about the work that operators and local transport authorities are doing to continue to provide bus services for local people in challenging circumstances.

An elderly man waits two hours in the rain not knowing whether a bus will turn up. A lone woman is left stranded at 11 pm. A business cannot open because half of its workforce are delayed on different bus services. The bus companies say that the services are improving, but my constituents tell a very different story. We need accessible, affordable, regular, sustainable bus services; information about where the buses are; and accountability when they are not where they should be. How long do we have to wait?

I totally agree with the hon. Lady that we need affordable bus services, which is why we have introduced the £2 cap. She will be aware that today £19.5 million of levelling-up fund investment has been announced for her area, including for 52 new electric buses, supported by 26 rapid chargers in the depots, to help provide that more regular and reliable service in the future. I will continue to work with operators to ensure that we have the drivers we need across the country, including in her constituency and mine.

In March 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, the previous Secretary of State promised buses so frequent that people would not need a timetable and said that the Government would

“not only stop the decline”—

in bus services, but—

“reverse it”. —[Official Report, 15 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 50.]

Since then, have bus services increased or decreased?

The pandemic had a major impact on many bus services across the country. As the hon. Lady will well know, that included a huge fall in the number of concessionary fare users and, as people were having to work from home or were not able to go into the office, in the number of paid fare users. We have put in more than £2 billion in support for the bus network since the start of the pandemic in order to support services.

I repeat that that promise was made in the middle of the pandemic. Only once before on record, also under a Conservative Government, have bus numbers fallen by as much as they did last year. So instead of continuing to defend this broken bus system, will the Minister extend franchising powers nationwide, remove the hurdles that operators use to block reform and finally put power and control over routes and fares into the hands of the communities who depend on them?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the BSIPs and the devolution deals allow franchising powers to go forward, and Labour Mayors, if they want them, can apply for them. If she wants all of this across the country, she should speak to some of her Labour colleagues in order to do that. Some are doing franchising, but a lot are taking the other alternatives and working in close partnerships. As for the new buses across the country, perhaps she could welcome the extra money going into the north-east today—the 52 extra electric buses in the north-east depot. Perhaps she could welcome the news of that extra funding today.