Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Impact of the Spending Review

1.  Local authorities seem destined to make deeper cuts to their tendered bus service budgets in 2012-13 than the current year. We call on the Department for Transport and the Local Government Association (LGA) to implement the recommendations in this Report as a matter of urgency. We recognise that the scale of local authority budgetary reductions in some areas mean that cut-backs are inevitable. It must be demonstrated—not least for the benefit of bus users around the country—that lessons have been learned from the mistakes made during the current round of cuts to bus services. (Paragraph 12)

2.  The combination of the reduction in local authorities' revenue expenditure and changes to the Department for Transport's concessionary fares reimbursement guidance in 2011-12, with the 20% reduction in Bus Service Operators' Grant (BSOG) due to be implemented in 2012-13, has created the greatest financial challenge for the English bus industry for a generation. The combined impact of these funding changes will, in some parts of the country, have a disproportionately adverse impact on the provision of local bus services and the level of bus fares. (Paragraph 20)

3.  In these circumstances, some local authorities have withdrawn services with inadequate or no consultation. The evidence we have received from bus users around the country demonstrates the anger and concern that people feel about the impact of these decisions on their everyday lives. Some of the most vulnerable people in society, including the elderly, will be most affected by these changes. (Paragraph 21)

4.  Local authorities have faced widely varying degrees of budgetary reductions. We recommend that the Department, in conjunction with the Local Government Association, collate information about the decisions taken by local transport authorities as a consequence of these reductions in respect of tendered bus services in 2011-12 across England. The Department should seek information about the provision of alternative transport modes, such as community transport, in areas where local authorities have scaled back tendered services. The Department should identify examples of best practice of local authorities that have responded innovatively to budgetary pressures to provide a cost-effective, flexible mix of local transport services, which provide an acceptable level of public transport for people who might otherwise be isolated. The LGA should play a key role in disseminating these examples of best practice across local authorities. These findings should be made public. (Paragraph 22)

5.  The real facts need to be established for the effect of these policy changes to be accurately measured, and for future decisions to be soundly based. The Department for Transport, in conjunction with the LGA, should compile details from local authorities about the impacts of the Spending Review on commercial bus services in England, outside London, in 2011-12. A similar exercise should be conducted following the implementation of the reduction in BSOG in 2012-13. (Paragraph 24)

6.  We appreciate the concerns of the bus industry that the reduction in BSOG next year may, combined with other recent funding changes, affect the viability of some commercial services. We welcome the Department of Transport's commitment to review the arrangements for BSOG more broadly. As part of its review, the Department should consider whether targeting BSOG in a different way, possibly through greater devolution to the local level, would improve the current approach. (Paragraph 25)

Consultation with local communities

7.  Bus services are often an integral part of the local community. It is only right, therefore, that local people should have the opportunity to voice their opinion if the local authority or integrated transport authority proposes significant changes to bus services that it supports. Some local authorities have faced very significant reductions in their revenue budgets, but it is important that local people are properly consulted when significant changes are proposed to their bus services. Local people should have the opportunity to give their views on the relative importance of different bus services and to suggest innovative approaches. (Paragraph 29)

8.  Local authorities should be able to have access to authoritative guidance if and when proposing significant changes to their tendered bus network. The Department should task Passenger Focus to develop a 'consultation toolkit' within the next six months for local authorities. This should provide best practice guidance on how local authorities can hold meaningful consultation processes with local communities about bus service proposals. The LGA should disseminate this guidance to local authorities prior to budgetary preparations for the 2012-13 financial year. (Paragraph 30)

9.  Bus operators must give 56 days' notice to the Traffic Commissioner for any changes to a commercial service. We urge bus operators to encourage customer feedback about their services and, wherever possible, to consult with users and communities prior to submitting their registration. (Paragraph 32)

Community transport

10.  We welcome the Department for Transport's decision to allocate £10 million to rural local transport authorities to encourage the growth of community transport in their area. This came months after the Department withdrew several ring-fenced transport funds on the basis that local authorities should choose their own priorities. The new fund is a welcome admission of the need for targeted funding. (Paragraph 35)

11.  The growth of the community transport sector could mitigate, to a degree, the effects of the loss of subsidised bus services. However, the evidence suggests that community transport schemes are unlikely to replace more than a small fraction of withdrawn local authority-subsidised bus services. Community transport schemes are themselves often reliant on public funding. (Paragraph 39)

12.  An important role for local authorities is to ensure that the community transport sector is developed in tandem with conventional bus services. Different ways of doing this will work best in different places. The LGA should identify and disseminate examples of best practice. (Paragraph 40)

13.  If the Government genuinely wants to encourage the growth of the community transport sector, it should legislate to permit the use of the concessionary pass on a wider range of community transport services. (Paragraph 42)

14.  It is clear that closer partnership working between local authorities, bus operators and community transport operators will be necessary post-Spending Review, in order to better utilise diminished resources. We encourage local authorities and integrated transport authorities to use the provisions within the Local Transport Act as means to achieve better partnership working, where necessary. (Paragraph 43)

'Area-based integration' transport

15.  There is evidence of some potential for local authorities to reduce costs through better co-ordination, planning and delivery of different types of transport services, including public buses, community transport, education, social care and health. The Government should identify ways to overcome the barriers (including regulatory or legislative barriers) to co-ordination, drawing on good practice around the country. The LGA should have a key role in identifying and disseminating best practice. (Paragraph 46)

Concessionary travel scheme

16.  It is obvious that the concessionary fares scheme is highly valued by users and the evidence suggests the scheme provides a number of social, economic and environmental benefits. There is likely to be scope for further cost savings in the management and administration of the scheme, particularly with advancements in smartcard technology, and there may be a case for a one-off payment for the card. We strongly believe, however, that the provision of free bus travel for the elderly and disabled is to be valued. We endorse the Government's commitment to protecting the entitlement. (Paragraph 50)

17.  We recommend that the Department of Transport commission further detailed research into the benefits, and usage, of the concessionary fares scheme. (Paragraph 51)

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 11 August 2011