How those PMQs should have gone…..

Jeremy Corbyn: “With fares rising above inflation, passenger numbers falling and services being cut, does the Prime Minister accept her failure on yet another public service: the buses?”

Theresa May: “I’m delighted my right honourable friend has taken the opportunity to raise the topic of buses; a vital and hugely important public transport mode which seldom gets the national attention it deserves. Buses are hugely successful at moving millions of people in their local communities and we should celebrate and congratulate the efforts made by so many dedicated people working tirelessly in the bus industry to provide attractive services which, despite his generalisations and negativity, in many areas of the country, are offering great value fares, maintaining or even increasing passenger numbers and improving frequencies.”

Jeremy Corbyn: “Since 2010, her Government have cut 46% from bus budgets in England and passenger numbers have fallen, and, among the elderly and disabled have fallen 10%. Her Government belatedly committed to keeping the free bus pass, but a bus pass is not much use if there is not a bus. Does she think it is fair that bus fares have risen by 13% more than inflation since 2010?”

Theresa May: “Local authorities are responsible for setting budgets to fund those relatively few bus routes which are not provided commercially, rather than Government, so his assertion is misplaced; although I acknowledge Government has made unprecedented cuts to grants paid to local authorities since 2010 making it virtually impossible for them to fulfil all the commitments they would wish to. Those areas with the most successful bus services are where local authorities work in constructive partnership with bus companies. Despite constraints on public funding some enlightened local authorities have used income from parking and even bus lane enforcement to fund unremunerative bus routes. It’s a ‘win win’ policy as motorists are curbed in favour of bus passengers. Bus fares rising by 13% above inflation over 8 years is 1.6% per annum which has helped fund a whole range of initiatives including cleaner Euro IV buses helping to improve air quality.”

Jeremy Corbyn: “Under this Government, fares have risen three times faster than people’s pay. Bus users are often people on lower incomes whose wages are lower than they were 10 years ago in real terms and who have suffered a benefits-freeze. Under the stewardship of this Government, 500 bus routes have been cut every year, leaving many people more isolated and lonely and damaging our local communities. Does the Prime Minister believe that bus services are a public responsibility, or just something that we leave to the market?”

Theresa May: “Dergeulation of buses introduced in 1986 has been hugely successful in allowing enterprising bus companies to provide attractive services in the market which millions of people use every day. It’s for local authorities to fund bus routes to meet identified social concerns but these are very much in the minority. It is unfortunate that we’ve seen local authorities cut routes they have been funding but I’m pleased to see in some areas private bus companies have worked hard to provide some replacement journeys commercially and volunteers in some local communities are taking the initiative to provide Community Bus replacements’”

Jeremy Corbyn: “When Sadiq Khan ran for Mayor of London, he promised to freeze bus fares, and what has he done? He has frozen fares. If the Prime Minister is concerned about the travelcard fares, she should speak to the Secretary of State for Transport: he is the one who sets that fare. Bus routes are being wiped out: 26 million fewer journeys have been made across the north of England and the midlands under her Government. So much for a northern powerhouse and a midlands engine. Can we be clear: does the Prime Minister think that deregulation of the bus industry, putting profit before osssengers, has been a success or a failure?”

Theresa Mayor: “Mayor Khan’s fares freeze was simply a populist attempt to get votes and get elected. The policy is a disaster for London’s public transport and bus and Underground users will ultimately pay the price when fares must inevitably rise significantly to catch up with rising operating costs. In the meantime the Mayor is overseeing cuts to frequencies of well used bus routes due to the dire financial situation he has created thus making gaps between buses longer causing inconvenience to passengers who have to travel on more crowded buses often in unpleasant conditions. It’s a short sited policy purely for political motives and needs to be called out for the cynical bribe it is. It will inevitably end badly with passengers suffering. The right honourable gentleman refers to falling passenger numbers in the north and the midlands but they have also been falling in London notwithstanding the Mayor’s fares freeze therefore confirming that fare levels are not necessarily the determination of passenger numbers. There are many other factors at play not least policies adopted by local authorities and shopping centres towards car use and car parking, as well as local economic performance.”

Jetemy Corbyn: “It will be a Labour Government who save the bus industry and who give free fares to under 26-year-olds. The truth is that since deregulation fares have risen faster than inflation, ridership has fallen and these private monopolies have made a profit of £3.3 billion since 2010. That is what the Torres give us in public transport. The Government have given Metro Mayors the powers to franchise and regulate to secure better services. Why will they not extend that power to all local authorities?”

Theresa May: “There’s no such thing as ‘free fares’; someone has to pay and the Labour policy will mean taxpayers, including those on low incomes, the ‘just-about-managing’ my Government are concerned about, having to pay more tax to fund free bus travel for young people. There’s also no logic in the Labour proposal to offer free fares only where bus routes are regulated. Either it’s a sensible policy to adopt for all; or it isn’t. I would like to see better fares for young people and would encourage bus operators, many of which are in common ownership with train franchise holders, to consider extending the 16-25 Railcard to include a third discount on bus travel. That would be a fine commercial initiative from entrepreurial private bus companies. In many cases the profits earned by private bus companies are not sufficient to fund full replacement of assets; and I would remind him that all such investment is funded at no cost to the taxpayer. All local authorities already have the power to fund bus routes that are not provided in the commercial marketplace and they don’t need extra powers to do so.”

Jeremy Corbyn: “it is a shame that this Government are so shy of giving powers to local authorities, and are instead more interested in cutting their resources. Bus services are in crisis under this Government. Fares are increasing, routes are being cut and passenger numbers are falling. The situation is isolating elderly and disabled people, damaging communities and high streets, and leading to more congestion in our towns and cities, with people spending more time travelling to work or school. It is bad for our climate change commitments and for our air quality. Will the Prime Minister at last recognise the crucial importance of often the only mode of transport available for many people by ending the cuts to bus budgets and giving councils the power to ensure that everyone gets a regulated bus service, wherever they live?”

Theresa May: “I’m very pleased to have had this useful exchange of views with the right honourable gentleman and grateful he has reminded me of the vital importance of buses. It is true more needs to be done to tackle air quality and congestion and there’s no doubt the bus offers the most effective solution. The responsibility for taking action must lie with local authorities as local circumstances vary from one area to another but it’s the role of Government to lead and set strategic policies and I intend to instruct the Secretary of State and the Chancellor to bring forward proposals which will favour buses including the return of the fuel tax escalator and the reintroduction of full fuel duty rebate for buses. I will also be announcing a new ‘Air Quality Solved By Increasing Bus Use While Reducing Car Use And Car Dependency’ Fund of £10 billion which local authorities will be invited to submit bids to. I look forward to further debates about how the Government can provide more help for buses in this House in the future.”

 

Roger French    16th July 2018

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