26 March 2012: We welcome the announcement that Norman Baker will be giving some extra money to buses; but the Government has a long way to go to avoid a funding crisis.
On Friday morning we received a positive sounding press release from the Department for Transport claiming that £101 million extra funding has been found for buses. In reality only £30% of this is new money. The cash will go towards more low carbon buses and to a selected number of local authorities who have won grants to make buses better in their cities and towns.
Also in the post bag was a less positive letter from the Government explaining that they will do nothing to help fill the funding shortfall for the concessionary bus pass scheme. The Prime Minister got a lot of coverage when he promised to protect the bus pass, but what a lot of people don’t know is that he failed to provide the funding to match. To fill the gap many local authorities are dipping into pots of money that are supposed to keep important buses on the road. It is a crazy situation, where the buses that elderly and disabled people most rely on are most at risk.
However the Department for Communities and Local Government have basically said in thier letter to us that because there is no ring fencing in local authority funding councils are free to spend what they want where they want. This argument is weak because authorities are obliged by law to provide some services and not others. The bus pass scheme is obligatory, but the laws around funding for local buses are not as strong. Therefore it is no wander that as councillors struggle to balance their budgets local buses loose out.
So for now we say congratulations to the winning bidders for the Better Bus Ares fund. Bus users in Bedford, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Bracknell, Brighton and Hove, Brighton, Cambridgeshire. Derby, Greater Manchester, Hampshire, Leicestershire, Merseyside, Milton Keenes, Norfolk, Nottingham, Slough, South Yorkshire, Southend, Torbay, Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire, Wiltshire and York all have something to celebrate.
However buses are on the roads day in day out, year in year out, and they need a commitment to durable revenue funding rather than just one-off grants. It is this type of dependable long term funding that they government has cut back on; to the tune of around £300 million each year. Will the Government wake up to the scale of this funding crisis in time? You can help stir them from their slumber by writing to your MP to ask them to back the Parliamentary motion to back buses. But hurry, this is the last chance, because the motion will expire with the end of this parliamentary session in April.