MPs back calls for extension of ‘vital’ bus franchising powers

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh
Wakefield MP Mary Creagh
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Labour MPs have joined Yorkshire council leaders in calling for “vital” new bus franchising powers to be extended beyond areas with directly elected mayors.

They argue the measures – outlined in the new buses Bill – are crucial to supporting communities and boosting social mobility across the region.

However, under the Government’s original proposals, the powers have been limited to cities with elected mayors.

MPs are challenging Ministers to abandon this requirement and prove their commitment to the devolution agenda.

Wakefield MP and former shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh is among those leading the charge on Labour’s behalf.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, she warned that without the new powers, areas like Leeds are at risk of “falling further behind” big cities like London.

“It’s easy to be distracted by large infrastructure projects and politicians love to focus on trains... but for me the bus is at the heart of people staying connected,” she said.

“We’ve lost over 1,000 bus services in the country over the last six years, and each service that gets cancelled is an older person who can’t get to the doctor, or a younger person who can’t get to school or college to get on.

“The issue is: who is planning for the older people who need to attend hospital appointments in Pontefract and Pinderfields? Who is planning for the early morning bus services to take people to work in the out of town distribution centres that we have?

“It is absolutely vital for West Yorkshire that towns and cities without a metro mayor have the powers to regulate bus services.”

It has been reported the chairman of West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport committee issued a similar call.

Councillor Keith Wakefield argued the new measures are crucial to the improvement of the region’s bus services.

The Local Government Association is also pressing for the change, pointing out that in the last decade alone bus services in rural areas only have reduced by 40 per cent.

The organisation’s transport spokesman Martin Tett said the reforms are “imperative” to ensuring communities get the services they need.

In the original version of the Buses Services Bill, it states that only authorities with directly elected mayors would automatically be granted the new powers to establish bus franchises. This was amended when the legislation went through the House of Lords, but the Bill is due to come for a second reading in the Commons in a matter of weeks.

Labour is lobbying hard to persuade the Government and Tory MPs not to block the Lords amendment.

Shadow transport minister Daniel Zeichner said that if Ministers are “truly committed to devolution” they will leave it as it is.

“The privatised bus system doesn’t work.

“For too long, private operators have put profits above passengers,” he said.

“We want local communities to be able to decide what’s best for bus passengers in their area – whether that’s working in partnership with private operators, regulating bus services, or running services themselves.”