06What needs to change
The Government’s ambition for buses is to be applauded and the deadlines set for mayors and local transport authorities recognise that lengthy discussions now need to translate into benefits for passengers.
First and foremost:
- Mayors should take local control of bus services by issuing notices that they are going to proceed with franchising. Enhanced partnerships are not a halfway house or a stepping stone – if mayors want better bus services that will improve the lives of local people and the economic prospects of their city region, franchising is the only option.
The Government needs to play its part too, by smoothing the way for mayors to make a simple either/or choice:
- The Government should make it possible for mayors to decide solely on the merits of either approach. The Government should make clear to mayors that they do not need to use capacity and resources to negotiate a ‘prudential’ EPS alongside efforts to pursue franchising in order for subsidies such as the Covid-19 Bus Services Support Grant and access to other government funding to be maintained from next April.
- In addition, the Government should allow all cities to introduce bus franchising without application to the Secretary of State. Cities without a metro mayor not only have to work out what is best for them, they then need agreement from the Transport Secretary should they wish to introduce franchising. This is an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle that could be removed to allow service improvements to be delivered more quickly.
- The Government should take steps beyond the current timetable to make franchising easier. The Government should propose a co-investment model to help areas meet the cost of following the franchising process required in legislation. It should also consult on measures to speed up the application process for bus franchising with clear, statutory timescales. Some of the requirements of the 2017 Act should be reviewed to ensure those for local authorities are not too onerous or open to legal challenge.