On Wednesday 1 March, Bridget Phillipson, Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South, spoke in the House of Commons during the Second Reading debate on the government’s Bus Services Bill.
After years campaigning for a better bus service in the north east, Bridget welcomed amendments passed to the Bill by Labour peers in the House of Lords that will ensure all local authorities are granted the power to introduce London-style competitive franchising schemes for bus services.
This would represent a significant change for the bus market in England. Under the current deregulated system, privately-owned bus operators have no obligation to run services in the interests of passengers. In areas like the north east, this has led to repeated cuts and changes to routes deemed unprofitable, leaving whole areas without a service.
Despite this, operators continue to receive taxpayer subsidies to support concessionary fares, fuel and commercial services. The knock-on effect is one of ever declining services and rising subsidies in a growing number of local communities.
During the last Parliament, Bridget Phillipson MP wholeheartedly supported the attempt by Nexus (the Passenger Transport Executive for Tyne and Wear) to use existing legislation to introduce a Quality Contract Scheme outside of London.
Although the scheme was ultimately rejected by the independent Quality Contract Scheme Board, the board acknowledged that it would have offered local people a transport system unrivalled outside London.
Two years on, the government has finally accepted through the Bus Services Bill that the current system of bus service provision in England needs change. However, the government is insisting that franchising powers for bus services should only be automatically accessible to those areas that have committed to move to a mayoral combined authority model.
During the Second Reading debate, Bridget Phillipson pointed out that this would not only deny regions like the north east access to a better bus service but also undermine the government’s ambition to empower local communities to take local decisions.
She urged ministers to accept the Labour-led amendments to the Bill so that all local authorities in England have the power to implement the change their communities need.
Speaking after the debate, Bridget said:
“Today I welcomed the Second Reading of the government’s Bus Services Bill, which provides us with a unique opportunity to reform England’s broken bus market by putting the interests of passengers ahead of profits.
“Thanks to sensible amendments passed by Labour peers in the House of Lords, the Bill will enable any local authority in England to introduce a London-style bus service, with integrated routes and fares, smart ticketing and a network run in the public interest rather than to subsidise operator profits.
“This is what I have been campaigning for ever since I was elected in 2010.
“However, the government wants to restrict these powers so that they are only automatically available to areas that agree to a directly elected mayor, meaning the north east will be denied the right to introduce bus franchising.
“This is deeply unfair. Why should our region be denied what Londoners take for granted just because we don’t currently have a mayor?
“As the Bill continues its progress through Parliament, I will continue to make the case for our region the powers we need to improve local transport.”
Watch Bridget Phillipson MP's speech here.
Read a transcript of Bridget Phillipson MP's speech here.