Louise Haigh demands action from ministers to tackle “looming bus crisis”

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour’s Louise Haigh has demanded action from the government to tackle a “looming bus crisis” amid reports that more than 100 bus routes in England are facing cutbacks or closures over the summer.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Transport today accused the Tories of having “checked out” while communities “face a wave of devastating bus cuts” and said ministers are “more focused on their own careers than the country”.

“Communities and local leaders need certainty in the face of this looming bus crisis, but ministers are missing in action,” she added.

“Any reduction in services will be devastating for the millions of passengers who depend on buses and would represent a straightforward betrayal of the promises this government made to communities.

“The Tories should be learning the lessons from Labour mayors across the country who are bringing fares down and fighting to improve services to tackle the cost of living and climate crisis.”

In a letter sent to Grant Shapps today, Haigh warned that “swathes of the country” will see their buses services “slashed” from July 24th and that the cuts will be not only be “devastating” for passengers but would also be a “straightforward betrayal” of promises made by the government.

Boris Johnson announced last year that £3bn would be spent to “level up buses across England towards London standards”. But it was revealed in a leaked letter in January that the budget had shrunk to £1.4bn for the next three years.

The letter, sent by the Department of Transport to the local transport authority directors, stated that “prioritisation is inevitable, given the scale of ambition across the country greatly exceeds the amount”.

£1bn has so far been awarded to communities to fund improvements to bus services. More than half the areas that submitted bids have received no funding.

Haigh demanded that the Transport Secretary “come out of hiding” and give local leaders clarity about emergency Covid funding for bus services due to expire at the end of September.

She urged him to “learn lessons” from the cheaper fares being introduced by Labour mayors in areas such as Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, which she emphasised were “designed to increase passengers numbers to provide buses with a sustainable future”.

The Labour frontbencher also called on Shapps to “come clean” about the government’s ‘bus back better’ strategy, declaring that the Prime Minister’s pledge to “transform” bus services is now in “tatters”.

At least 135 bus routes in England are expected to face changes to their service or cancellation over the summer, including 16 routes in London, 25 in Liverpool and approximately 40 across the North East.

West Yorkshire combined authority has warned that more than 10% of its network is at risk while services in South Yorkshire will be reduced by a third in what South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard described as the biggest cuts to the service “in a generation“.

Below is the full text of the letter to Grant Shapps.

Dear Secretary of State,

In April 2020, you pledged to make public transport the “natural first choice”, saying the scale of the challenge to reach net-zero demanded a ‘step-change in both the breadth and scale of ambition”.

Yet from 24 July, swathes of the country will begin to services being slashed. In South Yorkshire alone, a third of services are at risk.

These cuts would be devastating for the millions of passengers who depend on buses and would represent a straightforward betrayal of the promises you made to communities.

With prices at the pump at record highs, affordable public transport is essential to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis.

As you know, due to the six-week notice period on bus route closures, the end of July is when local authorities are beginning a wave of bus service cuts as a result of Covid Bus Recovery funding expiring at the end of September.

Communities urgently need certainty in the short and long-term. That is why I am urging you to:

  • Come out of hiding on the immediate crisis – and give local leaders clarity on the status of emergency funding due to expire on at the end of September.
  • Learn lessons from the cheaper fares being implemented by Labour mayors – fares have risen by 40% since the Conservatives came to power pricing people off public transport. You should learn the lessons of fare reductions in Labour-run Great Manchester, Liverpool City Region and West Yorkshire, which will slash the cost of travel and are designed to increase passengers numbers to provide buses with a sustainable future.
  • Come clean on wider long-term funding for the ‘bus back better’ strategy – with over half of communities seeing no funding whatsoever from the strategy, leaving the Prime Minister’s pledge to “transform” bus services in tatters.

Compounding this crisis are the broken promises of your government. Despite pledging “great bus services for everyone, everywhere” in April, ministers revealed communities will see just 1/3 of the £3bn bus transformation funding promised to communities, with just £1.08bn made available. Over half of local transport authorities saw no investment, leaving out vast swathes of the country.

It is time to come clean on the cuts to transformation funding and tackle the looming bus crisis.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Haigh MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

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