Labour’s shadow transport secretary has criticised as ‘ideological and divisive’ the Bus Services Bill's ban on councils setting up new bus companies.
The Bill will stop councils setting up bus companies
The Bus Services Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday.
Its main provisions are powers for combined authorities with elected mayors – and possibly others – to introduce franchising, as well as changes to bus partnerships and new obligations on data provision.
It also includes a clause stating that: ‘A relevant authority may not, in exercise of any of its powers, form a company for the purpose of providing a local service.’
Some councils like Nottingham, which includes the constituency of Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Lilian Greenwood, still own and run bus companies.
She told Transport Network: ‘Bus services urgently need reform and the principle of introducing regulation enjoys broad cross-party support. A ban on municipal ownership was not mentioned once in the Government’s consultation documents, and it’s incredibly disappointing to see this ideological and divisive clause appear in the Bill.'
Ms Greenwood added: 'Some of the best bus services in the country are provided by municipal operators, and local authorities should be able to replicate that model if they chose to do so.'
Tony Page, Labour deputy leader of Reading BC and lead councillor for strategic environment, planning and transport, said the clause represents a ‘real and present danger’ to council-owned Reading Buses, which was named UK Bus Operator of the Year in 2015.
He told getreading: ‘I think the clause is petty and vindictive because local authorities have shown in the last few years that they can still deliver efficient and effective services in a storm of cuts from the Government.
‘Once again, this is the most centralising government in decades taking more and more freedoms from local authorities - moving towards central government dictat and away from efficient, effective local government.'
Cllr Page added: 'Localism is dead, it was dead as soon as it was announced by Eric Pickles.'
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said the Bill 'will give councils access to a range of powers to help deliver regular, reliable services for all'.
She added: 'Under these plans, councils will have more influence over bus services in their areas, and it would therefore not be appropriate for them to also provide these services. However, we recognise that existing municipal bus companies provide high quality services for passengers and these companies will not be affected.'