By Bridget Phillipson MP
Published by Sunderland Echo 12th November 2014
Last week in Parliament, Labour called a debate on local bus services. This gave me the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for Transport, whether he would belatedly lend his support to the Quality Contract Scheme for local buses in our area. Unfortunately he chose not to do so, a stance that I find puzzling given the recent announcement by Chancellor George Osborne that Greater Manchester should be given similar powers to introduce a franchising system for buses along with integrated, smart ticketing. I cannot understand why the government puts forward proposals for Manchester that are very similar to those already planned for Tyne and Wear, and yet will not offer their wholehearted support for what we’re doing. Surely what’s good enough for Greater Manchester should be good enough for our area too?
The purpose of Wednesday’s debate was to recognise the importance of buses to promoting local economic growth. Bus usage outside of London has been in decline, with many routes cut and ticket prices soaring. Deregulation of bus services has failed to provide the public with an efficient and affordable service, and left local councils unable to co-ordinate transport networks in the public interest. Instead of lower fares and lower costs to the taxpayer, deregulation has resulted in a small number of bus operators in the north east making a huge amount of profit by cherry-picking the most profitable routes and ignoring the needs of local people and taxpayers. The decision last month by the North East Combined Authority to press ahead with a London-style system offers our region a chance to build a better bus network and support businesses, jobs and growth.
Ministers should also stop giving the impression that they think the north ends at Manchester and give local councils and residents in the north east similar powers so they too can have a greater say. The people of the north east deserve a better, cheaper and more efficient bus system, but they also deserve a government that stands up for their interests. Unfortunately, too often this government demonstrates that it’s not interested in our region or its people.