9 December 2011: Norman Baker has announced new funding for buses. It’s a good start, but it comes in the wake of severe and continuing cuts to services.
After nearly a year of urging central government to do more to protect our vital bus network, we have seen some movement, with the announcement of three pots of money to support buses in different ways. The £20 million for the Green Bus Fund will help operators make the transition to more carbon efficient buses. The £10 million for rural local authorities to spend supporting community transport is all very well, but with so many other pressures on council budgets the community schemes on the ground sometimes struggle to get the money.
What has been announced for the first time this week is the Better Bus Areas fund. This is a fund of £50 million to be focussed on improving urban public transport. The money can be used on measures to make buses a more popular choice of transport, and to improve bus stations and information services. The idea is to encourage greater cooperation and partnership between transport operators and local authorities, so a bus company will have to be on board if the bid has a chance of being successful. However there are complications, because if a local authority wants to bring in greater regulation to try and improve bus services they will find it a real struggle to get a bus company to back their bid. Bids for the fund will need to be made in February to allow the Department for Transport to make decisions by the end of March. So if you think your local authority should be bidding for the fund it is worth while writing to them.
The new money for urban buses is welcome, but it is rural areas that have so far suffered the worst of the bus cuts. Now is the time when local authorities are thrashing out plans for their budgets that will be announced in the spring. We have already heard rumours that Somerset County Council are planning larger bus funding cuts next year than they previously predicted. We have been told that a consultation in Somerset will start soon, so if you live in Somerset make sure your voice gets heard.
We know from our research that at least 77% of councils are planning or cannot rule out further cuts next year, so if you have concerns for your area it would be a really good idea to contact your council now to check what is happening. Bad decisions are easier to prevent than to undo. Our clickable map, and the information we collected using the Freedom of Information Act, is a useful place to start for people looking into their councils plans for bus cuts.