The full name of the Government’s Buses Bill – the Bus Services Bill – says a lot. As it makes its way through the Lords, it’s striking just how much the Bill in its current form focuses on the provision and delivery of bus services, rather than on the needs of the people and communities who rely on them.
In the past week, we’ve been working to put passengers back into the Bill. Our team of Labour & Co-operative peers in the House of Lords have been working to build cross-party support for a series of amendments, amid growing consensus on the need to deal with plummeting passenger numbers, the closure and withdrawal of services and the social and economic impacts of transport poverty on individuals and communities.
As co-operators, we know that the answer to our broken bus market lies in giving back control, drawing on mutual principles to ensure that power over our buses rests with the people who depend on them. The Buses Bill is an opportunity to redress that balance, and Co-operative Party politicians are working to ensure it does.
With the Bill currently at its committee stage in the House of Lords (the step before it passes to the Commons for debate), Lord Kennedy has introduced three amendments which, if added to the Bill, would strengthen the rights of passengers, as well as increasing the scope for not-for-profit and mutually-run operators to play a bigger role.
- Requiring local authorities who choose to set up a franchising system for bus operators, to consider how passenger representation can be increased over the life of the franchise agreement.
- Requiring local authorities to ensure that not-for-profit bus operators are integrated into any bus franchising frameworks
- Giving communities more power to protect services that are at risk of being cut, by extending powers currently used to protect local pubs and sports grounds to include bus routes.
Over the past week, all three amendments have been debated in the House of Lords, with both the Government and members from other Parties indicating a broad willingness to work with Lord Kennedy to take the first two amendments forward. The third amendment is due to be debated on Wednesday.
Making the case for the second amendment, Lord Kennedy said:
The not-for-profit sector is thriving in a variety of areas…It can complement other providers and deliver on a smaller scale bus routes that really benefit local communities and that can boost the local economy, connecting people with jobs, shops, schools and other services that they may not have had access to in recent years.
While Lord Attlee, Grandson of the former Labour Leader and a Tory peer, endorsed Kennedy’s earlier amendment, calling them “no-brainers”, he subsequently questioned the ability of not-for-profit bus operators such as HCT Group to scale further, instead noting that their strength was to “plug a few gaps in services for the general public.”
HCT last year had a turnover of £45.5m and operated more than 500 vehicles, a point which the Liberal Democrat Baroness Scott highlighted in her retort to Attlee that “in areas such as mine, they are the service”.
In his response to Kennedy’s amendment, the government spokesperson Lord Ahmad added to the sense that this may be an issue where there is scope for cross-party co-operation, and expressed an openness to taking the amendments forward:
…I am open to discussing how we move this matter forward. I hope that I am indicating that I believe we should proceed in a collaborative way on the passage of the Bill through Committee and Report. I am happy to discuss with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, how we can develop this amendment to reflect the intent behind it, which I share and which I am sure she shares, and also incorporate the issues raised by the noble Baroness.
As a growing number of voices across parties join our call for buses run for people rather than profit, and as the Bill makes its way to the Commons later in the Summer, we’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, do stay in touch via Twitter, and share your stories via #peoplesbus.