Grant Shapps accused of overseeing 'managed decline' of buses after leaked letter reveals funding reduction

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and the Government have been accused of “delivering managed decline” of bus services following a leaked letter from his department confirming cutbacks to a key funding scheme.

Sheffield Heeley MP and Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh challenged Mr Shapps in Parliament over a recent report in The Observer newspaper.

Following Boris Johnson outlining a £3bn ‘Bus Back Better’ strategy, last month a letter was sent from a Department of Transport official to Local Transport Authority directors saying the budget for a ‘transformation’ programme had been reduced to £1.4bn.

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The letter, which was subsequently leaked to The Observer, is reported to have said this will mean hard choices for areas that had expected to receive more and added that “prioritisation is inevitable, given the scale of ambition across the country greatly exceeds the amount”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has insisted £3bn will be spent on buses during this Parliament.

Analysis from Shadow Buses Minister Sam Tarry’s office suggested more than £7bn of funding bids for the available money had already been submitted.

The DfT said at the time that it was “incorrect” to claim funding had been cut as it was still planned £3bn would be spent during the current Parliament.

The Manchester Evening News subsequently established from the DfT that some original funding had been used to keep buses running during the pandemic.

Ms Haigh initially referred in Parliament to an announcement by Mr Shapps on Wednesday that he was setting out “how £1.2bn will improve bus services and fares in Stoke-on-Trent, Portsmouth, Luton, Derbyshire, Warrington and many other places, as part of the PM’s £3bn commitment to transform bus services across the country”.

Speaking during Commons transport questions, Ms Haigh said: “Last year the Prime Minister promised great bus services to everyone, everywhere, with £3bn of new funding to support this.

“Yesterday we learnt the truth about the transformation funding, slashed by £1.8bn.

“Why have they broken their promise and downgraded the ambition of communities?”

Mr Shapps responded: “She’s inadvertently misleading, because the figure is still £3bn.

“The £1.2bn is a part of that £3bn and there are other elements of the funding which have already been announced, including half a billion on decarbonisation and more money on its way, so it’s simply an incorrect figure that I ask her not to continue to repeat.”

Ms Haigh responded by referring to the leaked letter.

She said: “I’m not the one misleading anybody and we’ve got it in black and white.

“In a leaked letter from his own official who wrote to local transport authorities confirming the cut and said the scale of the ambition across the country greatly exceeds the amount of transformation funding.

“Will he come clean, admit vast swathes of this country will not get a penny in transformation funding and that he’s sold bus transformation, but is delivering managed decline?”

Mr Shapps said her comments on the funding situation were “absolutely incorrect”.

He said: “It is false to claim that £1.2bn is the total funding, it is not.

“I will write to her with a detailed breakdown, but I do ask her to take into account the full amount of money being spent on buses, a record never achieved before by any Government as far as I can see.”

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