County MPs launch rural bus inquiry

A cross-party group of MPs have launched a new parliamentary inquiry into bus services in shire counties and rural areas, after finding that such areas have suffered from a £90 million drop in funding.

The inquiry by the County All Party Parliamentary Group will investigate the decline of rural bus services and make recommendations to government, with ministers pledging a multi-billion investment into buses over the coming years and a National Bus Strategy.

The County Councils Network has previously reported that funding for bus services for those areas has almost halved by £89.8 million since 2010 – representing a 46 per cent drop. For comparison, city regions’ drop in funding is £29.2 million over the same period, representing a 19 per cent drop.

MPs on the County APPG say that the recently announced National Bus Strategy and the government’s planned investment of up to £5 billion in local bus services has the potential to reverse the decline in services and make buses more accessible and frequent if counties are given a proportionate share of resource.

However, they also go further to argue that if government is to fulfil its pledge to level up services in England, it is essential that funding is provided directly to county authorities with all transport authorities given the powers, freedoms and flexibility to overhaul and improve local services, and replace lost routes.

Peter Aldous, chairman of the County All-Party Parliamentary Group, said: “Ensuring our towns, rural and coastal communities are well connected through sustainable local transport links is key to the levelling-up agenda. More frequent and reliable bus services have the potential to boost regional growth and improved social mobility, while they provide a lifeline to many people in remote and rural areas.

“Despite this, councils in shire counties have seen their funding almost halved for local bus services since 2010, compared to a 19 per cent drop for the major cities. As a result, buses are almost non-existent in some of the most rural and coastal areas where services act as a lifeline, while county towns suffer from less frequent and more expensive services compared cities. We strongly welcome the introduction of the £5 billion National Bus Strategy, which has the potential to help reverse the decline in local bus services and make services more frequent and accessible to local residents. However, we must ensure that this funding is distributed fairly to all areas and county authorities have the powers they need to improve local services.

“This inquiry aims to provide new insights into the impact of reductions to local services, how services in our rural areas have adapted in recent years and role of sustainable transport links in tackling climate change. Most importantly, it will provide clear recommendations to inform the development of the National Bus Strategy to ensure county areas fully benefit from the levelling-up agenda.”

The joint inquiry is open for evidence until 15 April 2020.