Government must do more to help councils maintain vital rural bus services

Sir Kevin Barron MP.
Sir Kevin Barron MP.

I am aware that for many people, especially the young, the elderly, those living in rural areas and those who do not own a car, bus services are a lifeline, writes Sir Kevin Barron MP.

I also appreciate the enormous benefits of the concessionary bus pass, as it can give older people greater freedom, increase their access to services and activities, and reduce loneliness.

In April 2018, the Government amended legislation to protect the free bus travel scheme in its current format, which I welcome.

However, I am aware that, although there is a statutory duty on local authorities to provide concessionary travel schemes for pensioners and disabled people, there is no ring-fenced money.

Indeed, the Local Government Association has estimated there is a £200 million shortfall for funding the concessionary fares scheme.

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I believe this is a failure by the Government, as it has given local authorities the responsibility to deliver services without providing the resources, or the means to raise funds, for it.

Labour has pledged to create municipal bus companies that are publicly run for passengers, not profit.

It has also committed to provide funds for free travel for under-25s to local authorities who introduce bus franchising or move to public ownership of local bus services.

Cuts to bus services have had disastrous consequences for towns and city centres, air pollution, and the environment.

To combat this, Labour has pledged funding of £1.3 billion per year to reverse the cuts made to 3,000 bus routes since 2010 and fund the expansion of new services.

I believe we must also introduce regulations to designate and protect routes of critical community value, such as local schools, hospitals and isolated settlements in rural areas.