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Bus Services

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 8 February 2024

The Government are providing the largest public investment in buses for a generation, providing more than £4.5 billion-worth of services in England outside London since 2020, as we rebuilt post covid.

My constituents are deeply concerned about the proposed cuts to the 78, 79 and 200 bus routes linking villages and towns in Bedfordshire. That is in the context of the Government’s own latest bus statistics, which show that in the last decade the bus sector in England outside London lost 15,000 workers and had around 600 million fewer annual bus passenger journeys. The Government’s bus strategy, published in 2020, is not reversing that decline. Will they commit to reversing the ideological ban on municipal bus companies and ensure that all local authorities get sufficient funding to deliver the bus services our communities need?

The hon. Lady seems to have forgotten the covid pandemic. The number of local bus passenger journeys in England increased by half a billion—that is 19%—in the financial year ending March 2023. Her local authority received extra BSIP-plus—bus service improvement plans—funding of £19 million. I urge her bus operators to sign up to the £2 bus fare, which has been transformational across the country in raising bus numbers.

Would the Minister be as surprised as I was to learn that, of the £3.722 million long-term BSIP Government cash given to Blackburn with Darwen Council, only £180,000—less than 5% of the entire budget—is being spent in the town of Darwen? It is all very well for the Minister to give money to councils such as Blackburn with Darwen, but will he ensure that it is spent fairly among the populations they represent?

My right hon. Fried makes a very good point. This is money that the Government give to ensure that communities across a particular constituency receive support. It should not be solely focused on one area. I will take up that point and write to the local authority myself.

Bus mileage has dropped by just 5% in London since 2010, yet astonishingly it has fallen by more than 30% in the north-east, as the Minister will know. Kim McGuinness, Labour’s candidate for North East Mayor, is keen to fix that as a priority, if elected in May. Is it not beyond time to let local communities have power and control of their own local bus services?

Clearly, that we are to have a regional Mayor for the North East is good news, but I did not think the hon. Lady would be celebrating the fact that she has a disastrous police and crime commissioner as her candidate and that the previously Labour Metro Mayor of North of Tyne is now running as an independent against the Labour party. However, it is without a shadow of a doubt the

“best-funded devolution deal in the country.”

Those are not my words, but those of the previously Labour Mayor. I genuinely believe we are building back better post covid, with enhanced bus company usage in circumstances where the £2 bus fare is making a huge difference.

Recent statistics show that the Bee Network is already making a daily difference for bus passengers across Greater Manchester, with an 8% rise in patronage in the first month of franchising alone and more bus services running on time than before. Liverpool and West Yorkshire are now following in Greater Manchester’s footsteps and exploring their own franchising plans to revolutionise local transport for thousands of residents. Does the Minister agree with Labour’s plan to give every local authority, not just Metro Mayors, the same freedom to take back control of their own bus services? If not, what does he say to the millions of people whose bus routes are being so badly cut back under this tired Tory Government? Does it not prove that while the Conservatives dither, Labour delivers?

With respect, the number of bus journeys in England increased by half a billion to 3.4 billion in the financial year ending March 2023, and that happened because of massive Government funding, which has effectively doubled since 2009. The hon. Gentleman is actually lauding something that is funded by this Government. It is unquestionably the case that we have allowed certain local authorities and Mayors to engage in franchising—something we introduced—but there has to be a way of paying for it, and it has been demonstrated repeatedly that when Labour organisations are challenged on this, they struggle to find out how they are going to deal with the funding, because, quite simply, they do not have a plan.