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Mr. David Drew, supported by Mr. David Chaytor, Alan Simpson, Mr. Andrew Stunell, Norman Baker, Mr. John Horam, Mr. Simon Thomas, Sue Doughty, Mrs. Patsy Calton and Peter Bottomley, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to extend permitted development status to small renewable energy developments and issue guidance to planning authorities in connection with such developments; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 15 April, and to be printed [Bill 67].
The Bill is born out of a tale of two cities. One is London, where bus services were never deregulated. The other is any other cityor, for that matter, town, village community or neighbourhoodin Britain. Bus services outside London were deregulated in 1986 by the then Conservative Government. Since then, quality and standards have fallen dramatically. Fares have gone up by almost 50 per cent. in real terms, and the number of passengers has fallen by more than one third in my area of West Yorkshire. It is a typical picture. In regulated London, on the other hand, patronage has increased by one third.
Deregulation means that bus companies can pick and choose what services they provide. They are free to make profits while providing a poor service. Week in, week out, services are chopped, changed, missing or late. Passengers suffer or they vote with their feet. Bus use outside London fell again last year, by 3 per cent. In this deregulated system, there is little that passengers, communities, MPs, councillors, local authorities or passenger transport executives can do to make private bus companies maintain or improve their services. The result is that many people have been denied a reliable and affordable bus service to work, to school and college, to shops, to health centres and to hospitals.
I cannot tell you enough that you are causing so much misery to myself and my neighbours in the Hough Side area. Please come and walk down Hough Side Road or up Hough Side Lane at 6.30 in the morning, keeping in mind the people who use these buses are women. I am sure you would agree with me that these buses are essential to us especially in winter time.
When we ask operators to reconsider bus service cuts, we can summarise the responseappropriatelywith two fingers. First, they say that the services are not profitable, and secondly, they suggest that we ask Metro to subsidise them. One private operator, Arriva, summed up its approach with admirable but brutal honesty when it said:
The decline affects everyone, not just passengers. Poor services mean increased car use, which creates even more congestion, pollution and road safety hazards in our communities. Other modes of transport, such as rail and tram, have a role to play, but buses provide three quarters of local passenger transport journeys, and among lower income groups, the proportion is even greater.
Quality contracts already exist under the Transport Act 2000 and operate to good effect in London, where services were never deregulated. Bus use in regulated London increased by nearly 10 per cent. last year. Outside the capital it fell by 3 per cent. On average, bus companies make 7.5 per cent. pre-tax profits in London, but 15 per cent. in PTE areas.
My Bill would make it easier for PTEs like Metro in West Yorkshire to introduce quality contracts. They would specify the routes, the quality and the performance of bus services over a wider area. Bus operators would have to tender for these contracts, rather than being able to cherry-pick. Services could then be properly monitored and better safeguarded. At the moment, the conditions that the PTEs have to satisfy to implement a quality contract are much too severe. My Bill would reduce that barrier.
So far, no quality contract proposals have been submitted to the Secretary of State. That is mainly because the legislation requires such proposals to surmount a number of formidable obstacles before they can be approved by the Secretary of State. A quality contract must satisfy three conditions. First, the proposed scheme must implement the policy set out in the proponent's bus strategy; that is fair enough. Secondly, it must represent value for money in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness; again, that is a fair test. Thirdly, it must be the "only practicable way" of implementing the relevant policies in the strategy. That last test is far too onerous. The present system has failed to provide customers with a basic, reliable and affordable bus service. The bus operators have had 19 years to show that they can work in partnership, but they have failed.
The Transport Act 2000 requires PTAs and local authorities to demonstrate that their proposals are "economic, efficient and effective". That should be the main test. In any case, the final power to grant a quality contract rests with the Secretary of State, not the local authority. The "only practicable way" test is superfluous and is discouraging the local intervention that the Government seek to promote in the provision of bus services.
In the four years the 2000 Act has been on the statute book, no local authority has sought to use these powers. When one does, it is inevitable that its proposals will be tested through the courts, given the severity of the test that it has to meet. Moreover, the process is lengthy and complex. Realistically, it would take two and a half years to introduce a quality contract under the 2000 Act, even with the shortening of the process recently introduced by the Government. Although that move is welcome, it will not alter the fundamental problem of the legislation, which dictates a lengthy, complex and difficult process whereby the "only practicable way" test remains a formidable and unnecessary obstacle to the
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delivery of better bus services. It remains a steeplechase with a huge first fence; it is not enough simply to reduce the length of the course.
Partnership, which is the Government's preferred way forward, has worked to a degree in some areas, including parts of Leeds, my own city. However, partnerships invariably involve special circumstances that cannot be replicated easily, particularly in northern city regions served by PTEs. One example is that of West Yorkshire Metro's guided bus projects, where patronage growth of 50 per cent. has been achieved. But these are isolated examples where it suits the operators to engage. PTEs are completely dependent on local monopoly providers who choose to act responsibly and to take a long-term view, and that is far from the norm.
Yes, we do need partnership where it can work, and we must continue to invest in it where it delivers, with operators who are prepared to take a long-term view, but we also need much tighter regulatory intervention, which the Bill would help to achieve. It would take away the requirement on PTAs and local authorities to demonstrate that quality contracts are the "only practicable way" to implement their statutory bus strategies.
This Bill is dedicated to the millions of passengers, including my constituents, who have seen their services decline and disappear over the past 19 years and fares increase by 50 per cent. in real terms, and who have waited in vain in all weathers for bus services that increasingly arrive late or not at all, and which, when they do turn up, are provided by increasingly shabby vehicles. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Paul Truswell, Mr. Dennis Turner, Mr. David Clelland, Mr. Clive Betts, Mr. George Howarth, Mr. Graham Stringer, Mr. John Grogan, Colin Burgon, Mr. Fabian Hamilton, Mr. Colin Challen, Mr. John Battle and Mr. George Mudie.
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