Over the past year, we’ve been campaigning to give local communities new powers to stand up to the big bus companies.
Too many local communities have been left high and dry by private bus operators axing routes, often overnight with little or no consultation. Or the other trick: bus companies making huge profits by cherry-picking the most popular (read: profitable) routes, and then demanding handouts from local councils to run the rest.
Up and down the country, the big five bus companies are holding local bus services and the people who rely on them to ransom.
We believe it’s time to stand up to them.
That’s why, via our People’s Bus campaign, we’re campaigning to change the law to give local communities new powers over their busses.
Last week, in the final few days before Parliament’s summer recess, we had an important opportunity in the House of Lords to implement one of the key objectives of the People’s Bus campaign, to place communities back at the heart of bus services.
We and everyone else know that buses are community assets. Current legislation gives communities the right to designate local land (such as playing fields) or buildings (such as a local pub or post office) as ‘Community Assets’, which protects them against being built on, demolished or otherwise changed in a way that is detrimental to the community, without local people first being consulted.
Bus routes can be just as much the lifeblood of a community as a post office or playing field – so why shouldn’t they enjoy the same kinds of protections?
The Labour Party frontbench spokesperson Baroness Jones of Whitchurch has tabled an amendment to the current Bus Services Bill that would do just that. Her amendment follows our two other campaign amendments which seek to give further support to not-for-profit bus operators, and for a legal right for passengers to be involved in procuring bus services.
Community Asset designation would be driven by communities who know only too well that their service is vital. It would stop services being withdrawn at short notice and unlock advice and funding for communities who do suffer service reductions, to start their own operator or partner with other not-for-profit providers.
The issue attracted support from across the House of Lords. While the Government Minister wanted to talk about the minibus fund, he did agree that more should be done for rural and isolated communities and conceded that the Campaign’s proposal needs to be explored.
After the Summer recess, the Bus Services Bill will enter the House of Commons, and the campaign will continue. Working with supportive MPs, and members and supporters, we’ll be doing all we can to stand up to the vested interests and to give communities a chance.