Westminster Hall Debate on Future of Rural Bus Funding

Posted on by Stuart Wrigley

Notice from Tracy Jessop, Assistant Director Travel and Transport Services at Norfolk County Council and Vice Chair of ATCO:

 
There was an interesting debate in Westminster Hall yesterday, 11 October, on “The Future of Rural Bus Funding”. The debate was called for by a Norfolk MP on the back of the Norfolk “Fair Fares” campaign to highlight the funding issues in public transport, and in particular the shortfall in concessionary fares funding.
My Leader wrote to over 30 councils last week, to ask them to brief their MPs and rally some support, as well as to support the e-petition.

Over 30 MPs attended, including MPs from Norfolk, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk, Northumberland, Isle of Wight, Lancashire and Cumbria plus others that I didn’t catch.

I’ve highlighted the key parts of the debate below, but would draw your attention to Norman Baker’s response, who was given 15 minutes at the end to answer the many queries raised. If you want to view the debate you can follow this link – it lasts for 90 minutes

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=9068

Key points from the debate
• Very well attended by more than 30 MPs – unusual, as normally an audience of 12 or so for this type of thing – and there was a big debate on Health at the same time in the Commons
• Overwhelming sense of the need to protect rural areas to promote access, but also to support economic growth and reduce congestion
• Recognition that the impacts of funding shortfalls in concessionary fares are having a negative impact on services provided for all people, as the money available to support the tendered network reduces
• Calls for overview of the concession fares scheme – reinforced by over 14 councils that people would be prepared to pay something to travel or pay for their card
• Lots of examples given by MPs about particular issues in their patch – consistent message was a need for local solutions and more freedom and flexibility from government about how to use the funding available
Key points from Norman Baker’s response
• The free bus pass stays [for this parliament]
• Government accepts there is a problem with funding of concessions for some areas (this is a major change in tact – has always said “local decisions” up till now)
• DfT wrote to DCLG in July to point out the particular problems that exist for Norfolk. DCLG have responded that they believe the new Business Rates Retention will address our concerns (out to consultation now, until end Oct) (but this will only be if they get the baseline funding correct)
Key plus points
• Positive lively debate, common issues for many rural councils – Norfolk seen as very proactive on this issue but would be helpful if affected councils got more active and involved
• Whilst Business Rates Retention might help in the long-term (from 2014), it doesn’t give us any help in the short-term and we need the shortfall addressed for the next 2 years
• Without any immediate intervention, councils will still have high shortfalls in each of the next 2 years, which will decimate the tendered network and we may never be able to recover from it.
• People are signing the petition – but let’s keep the pressure on       www.norfolk.gov.uk/fairfares   to make a major impact and get the government to rethink. There are over 4,000 signatures in hand, in addition to the e-petition.

It’s very important that councils understand the impacts of the proposals about Business Rates Retention, which includes a technical note on how they might address the concession fares relative needs formula. This extract was from a recent DfT note to point you in the right direction for the consultation paperwork:
DCLG are currently out to consultation on the broad options for a new way of funding local government based on business rates retention. The consultation can be found at the following link            http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/resourcereviewbusinessrates

and Question 1 and 2 on page 21 are pertinent to how 2012/13 formula grant may be used as the basis for constructing the baseline for 2013./14, the proposed first year of the new scheme.
On 19 August DCLG also published eight supporting technical papers concerning the consultation, and consideration of whether to review the relative needs formulae for concessionary travel is discussed on page 23 and 24 of paper 1 “Establishing the baseline” at the following link:

http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/resourcereviewtechnicalpaper1

You should send your consultation response to

ResourceReview@communities.gsi.gov.uk

before 24th October, when the consultation closes.

Tracy Jessop
Assistant Director Travel and Transport Services
Environment, Transport and Development

 

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