MPs have welcomed the Bus Services Bill but say they are unconvinced by the Government’s position on the availability of franchising powers, banning new municipal bus companies and supporting rural services.
The Bill proposes major reforms to the delivery of bus services in England, outside London, and is due to move from the Lords to the Commons shortly.
Transport committee chair Louise Ellman
In a new report, the Transport Select Committee says the Bill is ‘a major opportunity to transform passengers' experiences of bus services’.
However, MPs complain that ministers have not made an adequate case on many of the key issues or provided sufficient information for them to assess the more controversial proposals.
Committee chair Louise Ellman said: ‘There is a lot to welcome in this Bill. Buses can make a real impact towards reducing congestion not only in metropolitan areas, but increasingly in smaller market towns and rural areas.
‘In this Bill, there are possibilities for local authorities to implement new forms of partnership or franchising based on what's best for their communities. But Committee scrutiny of the franchising process was hindered by a lack of information. We expect to see all relevant draft secondary legislation and guidance when the Bill is introduced into Parliament.’
The report largely backs the case for giving councils other than mayoral combined authorities the automatic right to franchising, as introduced into the Bill by a House of Lords amendment.
It says: ‘it is primarily for the local transport authority to decide whether or not franchising is appropriate for any particular area and we agree with the majority in the Lords that the process set out in the Bill as introduced is unnecessarily cumbersome’.
MPs accept that there may be a case for reinstating the requirement for the transport secretary to consent to franchising by authorities other than mayoral combined authorities but say ‘this has been difficult to assess, in part because the draft guidance was not available for our witnesses to consider when they gave evidence to us’.
The report says: ‘If the Government wishes to reinstate the consent requirement, it must produce more detailed guidance on how the Secretary of State will exercise these powers.’ It also says it is ‘unacceptable’ that key elements of the Bill relating to franchising are not available for scrutiny while other parts are only available in draft.
MPs also back allowing authorities to set up their own operator and describe the proposed ban on this as a ‘disproportionate response’ to the risks.
Highlighting the importance of passenger transport services to isolated communities, the committee says the Bill ‘can only be part of the solution in protecting local transport services’. It says: ‘The Government must explain how its devolution agenda will help to support local communities to maintain often critical bus services that nevertheless require ongoing financial support.’