Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

6  Conclusion

52. Bus services are vital to some people to enable them to participate in employment, education and voluntary work. They are sometimes vital for access to health services and shops, providing the necessities of life. For many they are an important, if not vital, lifeline to social life, cultural experiences, sporting events and other elements of a full life. Our inquiry focussed on the funding of bus services in England outside London in the light of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The Government wills the end of better and cheaper bus services: there is not much evidence that it is willing to provide the means.

53. The Government's aspirations to improve the passenger experience, for example by having the majority of public transport journeys smartcard-enabled by 2014, are of little consolation to the many bus users around the country who have witnessed, or who may soon witness, their local bus service being withdrawn or fares rising above the rate of inflation.[132] Many local authorities, faced with a combination of cuts to their budgets, have reduced funding for subsidised bus services. Bus operators too have reduced commercial services with little notice and no consultation. In some cases whole sections of the bus network have been scaled back, with little or no proper consultation with local communities either by local authorities, integrated transport authorities or commercial operators, and no adequate alternative public transport in place. Given that there may be deeper cuts in 2012-13, there are clearly lessons to be learnt. Both local authorities and integrated transport authorities and commercial operators should consult more widely; and local authorities and integrated transport authorities should use the measures available in the Local Transport Act more imaginatively.

54. The Minister argues that local authorities have ultimate responsibility for their tendered bus network. Local councillors are accountable to their electorate for their actions. With the increased emphasis on devolved decision-making there is, in our view, a pressing need for examples of good and bad practice to be effectively shared between local authorities. We consider the Local Government Association (LGA) to be most appropriate body to take on this role. In this Report we recommend a number of ways in which the LGA should identify and disseminate best practice examples of ways in which local authorities can deliver cost-effective, flexible transport services, including community transport and/or area-based integration transport. We suggest that it should also work with Passenger Focus to provide guidance to local authorities about how to consult meaningfully with residents about proposals to change local bus services.

55. The Government cannot wash its hands of any responsibility for enabling this to happen. The Department for Transport must put its full weight behind helping those directly responsible find solutions to the social and economic impacts of the disappearance of the only public transport that may be available in some places. It is also the DfT who should be monitoring, analysing and drawing conclusions about the effects of changes in bus services, and the wider costs and benefits to the country of policy decisions which affect those services.

132   Qq 280, 285 Back

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Prepared 11 August 2011