The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 15 March.
“I would like to make a Statement about bus services. Britain is often described as a railway nation, but if we have a national form of public transport, it is definitely the bus, carrying more than 4 billion passengers a year in England—more than twice as many as rail—over a vast network. No other type of public transport comes close for convenience, affordability and popularity. If anyone needs persuading of the bus’s value, surely the 2020 experience has provided us with the evidence we need. Without buses operating day and night, many key workers would have been unable to get to work, so we owe a debt of gratitude to the bus industry and, in particular, to the magnificent bus drivers for keeping this country moving.
Covid has shown that buses provide Britain with far more than just a means of travel. They are a lifeline for millions. In normal times, they help students to get to college, they help those without work to attend job interviews, they help the elderly get to the shops and they help us all to get about. They are crucial for the survival of our high streets, for rural businesses and for the planet, too. For many disabled people, they can be an accessible way to stay mobile. In all these ways, buses are not just an industry but almost a social service. Fundamentally, they help us to level up the country.
Buses can and should also be the transport of choice, in my view. London, Brighton and Harrogate have already proved this, with frequent modern services and dedicated lanes attracting millions of journeys a year from the private car. We want to do that everywhere throughout the country, yet in most regions outside London services have been in decline for decades. Successive Governments before this one have failed to prioritise buses, either with sufficient investment or with a workable plan. That is why this Government are taking action to revitalise bus services, and why today we have published the national bus strategy for England outside of London, with its bold vision for the industry to reform the way it has managed to deliver tangible benefits for passengers, and this is all backed by £3 billion of government investment.
Covid has hit the bus sector hard, as it has all transport, but it has also provided an opportunity to put better bus services at the heart of the community. Throughout 2020, bus companies and councils have had to co-operate as never before to keep services running for key workers. Now we want to harness the same sense of partnership and change the way the industry fundamentally works by putting the passenger and the environment first.
Passengers want simpler fares, more routes and services, easier information and greener buses, and this bus strategy reflects people’s lives. In cities and towns, this means that travelling when we want and where we want becomes easy to do on a bus. We expect councils and operators to bring in simple, cheap flat fares with contactless payment by card or by phone. Up-to-date information should be available immediately on our phones, on board the buses and at bus stops. We want closer integration of services and ticketing across all forms of public transport, so that people can seamlessly travel from buses to trams to trains and we end the absurd situation where different operators do not recognise or accept each other’s tickets. We want to have much more of the “turn up and go” type of service—the kind of frequency that means you do not even have to look at the timetable before you get on the bus—and more services in the evening and at weekends.
In rural areas and out-of-town business parks, we sometimes need to be able to provide buses that are available on demand from an app on your phone. Today, I am pleased to announce £20 million of investment from our rural mobility fund to trial on-demand services in 17 different locations, including minibuses booked via an app that people pick near their home at a time that is convenient to them.
I want anyone who happens to be disabled to be able to confidently travel when and where they want, so this bus strategy will make sure that all local services have audible and visible “next stop” announcements. We will consult this year on improving access to wheelchair space and priority seating for those who rely on them. A series of new bus passenger charters will define precisely what all bus users can expect in their particular areas.
Before Covid, the way in which buses were organised made it hard to arrest the decline in bus ridership—a decline that has been going on since the 1960s. The pandemic has brought councils and the industry together, and we want every local transport authority in the country and its bus operators to be in statutory enhanced partnerships or in franchising arrangements throughout. The franchising system is used in London. For example, Transport for London sets the routes and the fares, but that will not be appropriate everywhere. That is why enhanced partnerships will be required, whereby the operators and the councils reach negotiated agreements on how buses will run, with local authorities taking greater responsibility for bus services, whichever solution they choose.
By 30 June this year, we want all local authorities to commit to one of those two options, with the bus operators’ support. We will need that commitment if they are to receive further emergency funding from the Covid bus services support grant. I can confidently predict that they will all be on board. Local authorities, in collaboration with operators, will then produce bus service improvement plans by the end of October this year.
These plans are pretty ambitious. By looking at the best bus services around the world and striving to match them, we expect to see how bus priority can best work without increasing congestion. We want to create plans for fares and ticketing, and we want to see how they will deliver urban, town and rural users to the bus network. Future government financial support will depend on local authorities and operators coming together under an enhanced partnership or franchising agreement. For our part, we will work with councils to introduce bus priority schemes this year, and we will roll out marketing to attract millions of new passengers to the network—people who have never used buses before.
The strategy also sets out our road map to a zero-emission bus fleet. Bus operators have invested £1.3 billion in greener buses over the last five years, which has been supported by £89 million of government investment, and we will commit to delivering 4,000 zero-emission buses. I expect to release funding for the first all-electric bus city very soon. However, only 2% of England’s bus fleet is fully zero-emission today, so after our historic move to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, this bus strategy sets out our plans to end the sale of new diesel buses in England too. We have launched a consultation to decide how and when that will happen.
This strategy marks a new beginning for buses. We will not only stop the decline that has been going on historically for decade after decade; we want to reverse it by making buses a natural choice for everyone, not just for those without any other travel options, and we want to put the passenger first. We want to build the stronger road partnerships that I have been talking about by channelling £3 billion into better services. Such a sum has never been seen before in respect of bus investment and will help us to transform buses throughout England and, by doing so, to transform our country, too. I commend this Statement to the House.”
I first express our thanks to all those involved in the bus industry for the invaluable work that they have always done and continue to do, not least during Covid-19, to provide a vital service to the nation which brings enormous social and economic benefits that extend way beyond crude calculations of whether a bus service is “viable” based on revenue from fares compared with cost incurred. This Statement appears to recognise that point when it says that
“buses are not just an industry but almost a social service.”
I hope that this does not prove to be just a gimmicky phrase.
Over the last decade, we have seen the loss of 134 million bus miles, and some 3,000 local authority-supported bus services have been cut over the same period as a result of government policies that have led to ever-increasing fares—way above inflation outside London—and cuts in local government finances. Bus coverage in Britain is now the lowest it has been in 30 years, despite a rising population. Office for National Statistics figures appear to show that, in January, bus fares were up by 21% on the previous year—the highest yearly increase since figures began. I invite the Government to comment on that. If that is the case, the increase in fares has been some 70% over the last decade.
The Statement says that there will be £3 billion of government investment in the industry to deliver what is said in the Statement about passengers wanting
“more routes and services, easier information and greener buses … simple cheap flat fares”
“the kind of frequency that means you do not even have to look at the timetable before you get on the bus—and more services in the evening and at weekends.”
How much does that £3 billion amount to per year, and how did the Government come to the conclusion that £3 billion was the required figure? How many of the 134 million lost bus miles will be restored as a result of that investment?
The Secretary of State said in the Commons on Monday:
“We … would not be putting £3 billion in if we did not expect, as the bus strategy says, to make buses more affordable. It is central to our vision that they are not just practical, but the affordable means of transport.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/3/21; col. 52.]
Do the Government regard bus fares outside London as affordable at present? If not, what does making “buses more affordable” really mean in terms of reducing existing fares?
The Statement says that, by the end of June, all local authorities, with the bus operators’ support, will have to commit either to a statutory enhanced partnership with their bus operators or to franchising arrangements along the lines of those that apply in London. Local authorities, in collaboration with operators, will then produce bus service improvement plans by the end of October this year. What happens, though, if there is a difference of view between the local authority and the bus operators, since future government financial support would depend on there being no difference of view on whether there should be enhanced partnership or franchising arrangements? The Secretary of State appears to be keeping the power to himself to decide who has the capability and capacity to run franchising, which does not sound much like devolving responsibility, and rather more like continuing with tight central control. If the local authority wants franchising arrangements but the bus operators do not agree, against what criteria will the Secretary of State decide whether the local authority can or cannot run franchising?
The Statement also says that
“we will work with councils to introduce bus priority schemes this year, and we will roll out marketing to attract millions of new passengers to the network—people who have never used buses before.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/3/21; col. 49.]
How much will the Government invest in this marketing, and what form will it take? How many millions of new passengers will have to be attracted to the network—
“people who have never used buses before”—
for the Government to deem this marketing to have achieved its objective?
The Statement refers to passengers wanting greener buses. The Government promised 4,000 zero-emission buses over a year ago, but very little appears to have happened yet. There are over 30,000 buses in England alone. Under this new bus strategy, what percentage of the bus fleet will be zero-emission in two, five and eight years’ time, and how many new green jobs will be created in the bus and coach sector? We have already seen more than a thousand jobs lost in the bus and coach manufacturing industry since the pandemic started.
At the moment, this Government’s bus legacy is ever higher fares, ever fewer passengers, ever fewer bus services and little or no progress on zero-emission vehicles. If the new strategy delivers a major reversal of that policy, that will be very much welcomed, certainly when it happens. The Government’s responses to the issues and questions I have raised will give an indication of whether the new strategy is largely words, or whether it reflects a clearly thought through delivery plan with clear, specific and ambitious timetabled targets and the resources already committed to enable them to be delivered.
My Lords, this Statement is obviously welcome because it is so long overdue. We have been expecting it since 2019, and in the meantime the bus crisis has worsened in ways that we could not have imagined. At this point, I must specifically thank all who work in the bus industry and, in particular, remember those who have died from Covid during the last year. They have all undertaken a difficult and unexpectedly dangerous job. Because of the virus, the Government have spent the last year discouraging us from using buses, and it will be a hard task to get us back into the habit.
We welcome this strategy because it inherently accepts that the deregulation of the bus services outside London in the 1980s was a failure. It is a pity that it has taken so long to recognise this.
For the sake of the climate, to reduce congestion, and to reduce harmful emissions and their effects on our health, I welcome the intention to move to zero-emission buses. It is just a pity that it comes a week after the Budget which froze fuel duty and proposed reductions in APD, neither of which suggest a strategic approach to our climate change commitments.
The Government apparently do not have a firm date in mind for an end to sales of diesel buses. The Campaign for Better Transport suggests that 2025 is a reasonable and feasible date. Can the Minister explain how long they expect their consultation on this to run? Every week of consultation eats into the preparation time for the industry.
Encouraging British-built zero-emission buses is an excellent scheme. The Government announced in 2020 that they would invest £120 million in 4,000 zero-emission buses. More than a year on from that announcement, we still see nothing productive from this promise and await an announcement in the spring. The Government have already lost a lot of valuable time on this and the Minister herself recognises that only 2% of our bus fleet is electric. For a more just and equal society, I welcome the commitments to cheaper fares and more regular and frequent services. What the strategy lacks is any detail on how these cheaper fares will be paid for.
Fares are the result of a combination of factors that include several separate funding streams from the Government. They are hopelessly outdated and none of those funding streams incentivise greener vehicles or relate to the number of miles travelled. The emergency funding for bus services increased the confusion, with funding based on historical concessionary fare payments for passengers who were not actually travelling. I can see no detail on this but would welcome any proposals for reform that the Minister can tell us about. For certain, we will not see a significant step towards improvements in fares, such as integrated ticketing, simply by relying on current funding streams.
Most bus companies do not make excess profits. Indeed, in rural areas many have a problem just surviving. Local authorities already point to a £700 million funding gap on concessionary fares and the Government must deal with this long-standing underfunding before they can start to expect a commitment from local authorities for improvements to services. So this Statement needed to be ambitious, and indeed it is, but it lacks a level of detail and realistic steps towards targets that are essential if it is to be useful. For many local councils, the level of bus services is now so low that recovery will require a total revolution in funding. The £3 billion sounds a lot, but as there are 4.2 billion bus journeys a year in this country, I think that sets the scale of things in perspective.
This strategy is really just a skeleton. It has taken the Government two years to produce and lacks so much necessary detail. Therefore, it is way out of kilter to expect local authorities to sign up to either enhanced partnerships or franchising by June—that is less than three months for a decision requiring major financial and legal decisions. Moreover, local authorities are expected to produce bus improvement strategies by October. Many local authorities no longer have the expertise among their staff to responsibly make those decisions—but, if they do not opt for one or the other, they will not get further funding. That is a decision with a gun to their heads. So my question is, will they have the scope to change their minds after they initially opt for one or other route?
Franchising is a complex legal process. The Bus Services Act 2017 restricted franchising to authorities with elected mayors. I never understood why, and strenuous attempts were made to try to broaden this, but that is the law. Can the Minister explain if and when we can expect fresh legislation to allow a broader sweep of local authorities to franchise bus services? Do the Government now accept that some of the best services in Britain are council run and owned, and that the restriction on councils setting up and owning their own services needs to be lifted?
The Statement also refers to very welcome improvements to disabled access, and I want to press the Minister on this. The 2017 Act improved and clarified access priorities. There were further improvements proposed, which the Government did not accept at that time. Can the Minister give us details of what she plans and whether we can expect legislation and when? I would also welcome more details on government proposals for encouraging on-demand services. I agree that such innovation will be important for modernisation. The Minister referred to 17 trial areas. I am very keen to know how these areas will be chosen—or have they been chosen already? What are the criteria? Do they include average income levels, car ownership and so on? Was it a bidding process? Some of the Government’s ambitions rely on new infrastructure, such as bus lanes. Does the £3 billion cover that as well as buses themselves?
Finally, you cannot buy a painting-by-numbers kit and expect to produce a Rembrandt. This Statement is the bare outline of a vision for the future, and there is nothing wrong with that vision, but the Government seem to be leaving local authorities and bus companies to fill in the picture without making it clear where the resources will come from.
Oh, my Lords—my officials and I spent a year working really hard on this strategy and it has been welcomed by bus operators, local authorities, passenger groups and groups representing disabled people. I am afraid that the response from the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, completely took my breath away. I have never heard such a negative response to a strategy that has been so widely welcomed by pretty much everybody else. It may be that she has not fully read it. However, I hope to address some of her concerns, because I am really proud of it and I think it will do a really good job.
To be honest, we know that successive Governments have not prioritised buses. They have put them to one side and focused on more shiny things. That includes Labour, and the Liberal Democrats in coalition. What is different is that this Conservative Government are stepping up and delivering for buses. This is the biggest reform and support package for buses in decades. I am astonished that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, does not see that. The strategy will result in improved journeys for millions of passengers. It brings local authorities and operators together to get the best from both worlds to provide for passengers.
The noble Baroness said that we could not provide these services on current funding streams. Of course, “we are not gonna”. We have said that we will put in £3 billion over the course of this Parliament and I am sorry that she does not feel that that is a lot of money. It think it is very significant, and substantially more than bus already gets. So perhaps I can delve into some of the topics that were brought up and I am sure we will have the opportunity to do a bit more.
The noble Baroness, for example, said that there was no expertise in local authorities to develop the plans for buses. However, we have committed £25 million in the coming financial year to ensure that local authorities have access to the skills and capabilities that they need. We will be setting up a bus centre of excellence where people can share their learning on how to set up enhanced partnerships, on how to do franchising and on how to get the most from their bus services improvement plans. All that is in the strategy if she cares to have a look.
An important thing to understand is that we want to break the vicious circle for buses. What has happened in the past has meant that congestion has increased, buses have got slower, journey reliability has gone down and, therefore, passenger numbers have declined. We have to break that. By encouraging these bus service improvement plans, which will set out ambitious plans from local authorities for bus lanes in their area, we are trying to break that vicious circle. Therefore, not only will people know when a bus is going to turn up, they will be able to get on it and know when they are going to arrive. That will lead to a greater number of people using buses and higher demand, which will also result in lower fares.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about enhanced partnerships on franchising. It is the case that mayoral combined authorities can currently franchise, and other local transport authorities can ask the Secretary of State whether they can franchise. Given that franchising takes a lot of time, we would ask that an enhanced partnership is put in place in the meantime. However, the strategy is about giving local control over buses to local authorities, and it will be for the local authority to decide, in collaboration with operators, what type of statutory arrangement it wants to pursue. Of course, the decision by the Secretary of State will depend on the case put forward by the local authority.
On the question of marketing, it is important to remember, in the first instance, that we must get people back on to public transport as a whole. Therefore, when it is safe to do so, we will ensure that the messaging includes buses. We do not want a car-led recovery.
A number of questions were raised about zero-emission buses. I am incredibly proud of where we have been able to get to. Some £50 million is available in the current year, which we hope will be invested very soon in an all-electric bus town. Then there is £120 million for next year, which we expect, combined with the £50 million, will support up to 800 zero-emission vehicles. Further details on that will be available extremely soon.
The consultation for the end of the sale of diesel vehicles is already out there—in the wild—and the end date is 11 April. The noble Baroness said that that would eat into preparation time. We are talking about five, eight, 10 or 15 years hence—I do not think that will eat into the preparation time.
The noble Baroness also mentioned reform of BSOG. It is currently a fossil fuel-driven subsidy and clearly not fit for purpose. We will reform it and consult this year on how we can incentivise the outcomes that we particularly want to see, such as environmental ones.
There is an awful lot in the bus strategy on the needs of disabled passengers. We will roll out the audiovisual announcements, backed by £1.5 million of funding for small operators. We will require every local authority to have a bus passenger charter, to ensure that disabled passengers get the services that they need. We will review the public service vehicle accessibility regulations by the end of 2023 to ensure that they meet the requirements of disabled passengers, and we will consult on improving access for wheelchair users and on priority seating.
I have much more to say about the national bus strategy, but unfortunately I am out of time.
My Lords, it is very nice to have three minutes each for Back-Bench questions. I hope to take less than that. I start by congratulating the Minister on the publication of Bus Back Better. It is the most powerful transport policy document of recent years. I will put my hand up for on-demand autonomous buses when they come—they will be ideal for low-density south-coast towns.
My question for the Government is: to help those LTAs that are less successful, will the DfT move quickly to set up the dissemination of practical best advice? Will it ask the star performing LTAs how bus lanes were handled on shopping streets with delivery requirements; how narrow streets requiring the removal of parking were dealt with; and how fast but meaningful consultations could be carried out? These are all things that good LTAs have done well, as page 18 of the report makes clear, showing
“an average benefit-cost ratio of 4.2”
among 33 major bus schemes. The DfT knows where a lot of good practice is; it should not be hard to share it.
I thank my noble friend for his warm words about the bus strategy—it is nice to have some. The noble Lord also makes a very important point: because we are giving more local control and accountability for bus services, the ability of local transport operators to put in place their bus service improvement plans will be critical. The noble Lord spoke of their need to share best practice. That is absolutely in the plan: the bus centre of excellence will combine learning from not only the Department for Transport but bus operators and the leading LTAs—which are already well down this track—and it will encourage everyone and ensure that they can move together at the same speed. We do not want what I call the recalcitrant LTAs: the people who have not loved buses as much as the Government have. My ambition is to make sure that we have no recalcitrant LTAs and that across the country everybody levels up so that we have good bus services everywhere.
The noble Lord mentioned demand-responsive transport. He will have seen the £20 million that we have put into 17 bids across the country. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned them. We published the list of 17 successful places back in early January; all of them have moved into the final stage and secured funding. Demand-responsive transport will be really good for rural areas. The noble Lord wants them to be autonomous, and so do I, but perhaps not just yet.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the documents. Unlike the spokesperson for the Liberal party, I welcome it. The fact that she has embraced so many policies that the Labour Party has advocated for so many years is entirely to her credit. More power to her elbow, say I. Has the Minister read the Prime Minister’s foreword? I know these things are traditionally written for Prime Ministers, but it is everything we have come to expect from the Prime Minister: a mixture of comedy, hyperbole and demagoguery. Talking about the bus industry it states:
“Outside London, with a few exceptions, that lesson has not been learned.”
He is comparing London to the rest of the country. As a former chairman of a major bus operator, I could have learned some lessons if we had thrown £1 billion in subsidy at buses in Birmingham over the period since deregulation, but we never had the opportunity.
Will the Minister say what happened to the £5 billion that the Prime Minister announced with suitable flair about a year ago? It has now been reduced to £3 billion. It is welcome nevertheless. How will it be distributed? Will there be proper consultation with local authorities and bus operators? Will the Minister accept my congratulations on the paper as far as it goes? Next time we take a bus trip together, which she has promised, I will see if I can sell her a few more Labour Party policies on the journey.
My Lords, I think good ideas should not be party political. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, mentioned the £5 billion. If he were to read the—I would say “small print” but it was not small print—document, the £5 billion was for cycling, walking and buses, so there was £3 billion for buses and £2 billion for cycling and walking. However, the noble Lord makes a very serious point. I am delighted that the strategy is out of the door, but I am under no illusion: the hard work is about to start because we have £3 billion and we have to think about exactly how we spend it. At the moment we cannot decide that because we do not know what sort of bus service improvement plans are going to be coming forth from the local transport authorities.
The timeline looks like this: by 30 June, each transport authority will say that it is going to have either an enhanced partnership or franchising and that the bus operators are willing to take part; they will then have to work very hard indeed to prepare a bus service improvement plan by 31 October. On the basis of those bus service improvement plans and the amount of funding that is needed in order to provide the sort of revenue funding and capital funding required for those plans, the funding will be distributed. Of course, it could also be the case that bus lanes could be bolstered through a levelling up fund, so there is a lot of opportunity for local transport authorities at the moment to take buses by the scruff of the neck and bring them into the 21st century and beyond.
My Lords, I give this document a very cautious welcome because it puts a lot of good ideas forward. How they will be carried out I do not know, but we have to be aware that the motoring industry is engaged at the moment in selling young people cheap motor cars, probably end-of-the-line motor cars. It is like the way tobacco companies engage young smokers. Once you have hooked them, you go on exploiting them for the rest of their life.
The Government must make the new buses very environmentally friendly. I make a special plea that they use clean air so that in future we are not recirculating dirty air into buses, which we do now, as it will give us a lead over the Chinese if we can do that. It is important that bus priority measures are given the Government’s full authority. There will be lots of people who will try very hard to stop priority measures going in, often misguided chambers of commerce and local authorities. Priority measures are essentially because we have no choice but to deal with pollution, which is one of the biggest killers of our time. It is unseen but is steadily going on with its work of killing people. I am very pleased to see that moving traffic offences are going to be decriminalised, which will help matters no end.
The last thing I want to mention is that right at the end of the report concessionary fares get some attention. They are out of control. If the Government want an idea that may work and perhaps will not cost too much, maybe they will have to get to a situation where younger pensioners do not get a free pass but are able to purchase a concessionary pass. Older or disabled pensioners will still be able to get free passes. A lot of people who use the concessionary fares could very well afford to make some subscription to a better service.
Other noble Lords are saying very lengthy; I would not say so.
I might pick out something of great importance that the noble Lord said about bus priority, because it is a big issue. The Government support local authorities putting in careful bus priority measures because, as I said, it would break the vicious cycle. Perhaps the noble Lord did not see it, but the Government are going to update the statutory traffic management guidance. It will make sure that local authorities promote bus reliability as part of the highways authority network management duty. That will be a really helpful way to put a rod in the back of some of the recalcitrant LTAs and help them to put things into place. The noble Lord also noted that we are going to commence Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act, which, again, I think will be helpful.
My Lords, I welcome the bus strategy for cleaner, greener, better buses and bus services. The regulations on the information on accessibility are not due to be done until summer 2022. Would my noble friend consider a more ambitious timetable? Similarly, when it comes to the physical nature of vehicles at the end of 2023, might the Government consider a more ambitious timetable there too? Finally, in terms of accessibility for disabled people and older people, what innovations are being deployed? There is much that can be done. Technology can play a brilliant part, both in terms of the vehicles themselves and in delivering inclusive buses and bus services for all.
I thank my noble friend for his warm welcome of the strategy. I note that he has been a doughty campaigner on the issue of audio-visual announcements on buses. I feel very sorry that we have not been able to bring it in sooner. I will take the question back to the department to see whether we can do the regulations earlier than summer 2022. I do not want to overpromise and underdeliver, but I can definitely ask. I will also do the same on the accessible vehicle regulations.
My noble friend mentioned innovation when it comes to disabled people and, indeed, everybody, travelling. It is important to remember is that it is the bus operators who are the innovators in the industry. They are the ones who know their customers and they often go far beyond the regulations that government puts in place. They do it because it is the right thing to do; it is what their passengers want. That is why I am delighted that operators will still be at the heart of what we are doing with buses. I am sure that they will innovate in the way that I expect.
My Lords, for the last four or five years, we have had a Government who have produced lots of very black and white-looking documents, usually a thousand pages long and full of lots of impenetrable words. Suddenly we are into glossy brochures again. I am not complaining, because I can cut the glossy brochures out and pin them on the wall for my grandson.
In the 20 years that I have been a Member of this House I have accumulated a vast number of glossy brochures produced by Governments. When I look at them now, most of them bear little relationship to what actually happened. I welcome the fact that the Government have noticed buses again. I welcome the passion that we have seen from my noble friend Lady Randerson and from the Minister. If buses are the modern passion of the House of Lords, that is great, but will the Minister accept that a national bus strategy can work only if it consists of myriad local bus strategies which must be in the hands of local people who know what is needed and what is wanted?
Will the Minister also accept that, while the document says that people want simpler fares and more routes and services, in many areas they also want much cheaper fares? I think noble Lords would be astonished at how much it costs to take a simple, short ride on a bus in many parts of the country outside big cities. It is okay if you are in a metropolitan area where it is subsidised—it is nirvana in London—but out in the sticks it is very expensive indeed and people will not leave their cars unless it is much cheaper.
Finally, will the Minister accept that, in addition to the concentration on cities and rural areas, a huge number of important bus services serve ordinary small and medium-sized towns? Towns are the most difficult places in which to provide frequent, cheap services because they do not have the demand of cities, and there is not the requirement for at least a skeleton service in rural areas that people recognise. Towns—the places in between and on the edge—are the places that this strategy will succeed or fail by.
The noble Lord is right, and in the middle of his contribution he basically set out what is in the strategy: giving control and accountability to local authorities. He made some important points about services and how different areas will have different needs. One of the bits buried in the bus strategy is how local authorities will be expected to set up something like a bus advisory board or equivalent, which will take into account the views of local people, services and businesses—everyone who has an interest in making the network run as well as it can. Even though all those people will put in their contributions, it will be up to the local authority to have the skills and capabilities to meet those needs and devise the sort of network that will be required. That bit is probably quite challenging, which is why we have put quite a lot of money into it.
Alongside listening to people and putting the network into place, it will depend on the situation; the strategy is not focused on rural and urban—it is focused on everywhere, as we recognise that every single place will be different. In some areas, turn-up-and-go on bus corridors will be perfectly acceptable and we will be able to put in more services in the evenings and at weekends. The other area that concerns me, to be honest, is cross-border services: how we make sure that longer services between two local transport authorities continue to function in an effective fashion. I recognise there is a lot to do. The Government stand ready to provide guidance, advice and support to local authorities as they take this challenge and run with it.
I warmly welcome the bus strategy and congratulate the department and my noble friend on the document they have brought forward. I particularly welcome the rural mobility fund and place on record that it will be a huge help in rural areas, for much the same reason that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, gave. It will ease parking in market towns such as Thirsk and Northallerton if people can access a bus.
I also welcome the concessionary fares funding. The document states on the very last page:
“While the bus market is recovering, we will still look to Local Authorities to contribute to the operation of their bus markets, though to a decreasing extent.”
It refers in an earlier passage to the national concessionary travel scheme. I want to place on record that, while the Labour Government came forward with the scheme, which was very welcome in rural areas, neither for the initial scheme when it was local nor for the extended scheme when it became national were sufficient funds made available to the local transport authorities. From which budget, in these times when local authority budgets have been particularly stretched, does my noble friend think the money for concessionary fares will come?
The noble Baroness raises an important point which is directly relevant to the support we are providing to the bus sector at the moment. Noble Lords will be aware that we have asked local authorities to continue funding bus operators in terms of their concessionary fares contributions at the same level as they did previously, even though the demand is significantly reduced. The vast majority are still doing that, and it is very welcome—indeed, essential —for their local areas. That funding comes from MHCLG; it is within the budgets that local authorities set and the funding streams they receive.