The Cabinet Member for Highways Assets and Transport updated Cabinet on the development of the Enhanced Partnership arrangements for bus services in Derbyshire and the various measures which were recommended for inclusion in the Council’s Bus Service Improvement Plan to support the delivery of the partnership.
The Government published the first National Bus Strategy for England in March 2021, the main objective of which was to reverse the long term decline in bus use nationally. It aimed to make bus services more frequent, reliable, better co-ordinated and easier to use. Government wanted to see major improvements in a variety of areas and had committed to provide £3bn of new transformation funding nationally to help drive forward these improvements.
The Strategy expected all Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) in England to play a much bigger role in the way bus services were operated in their area. The existing deregulated model of bus provision had been in place since the 1986 and most services were provided on a commercial basis. LTAs could become involved by specifying and funding additional services to fill gaps in commercial provision. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 80% of bus passenger journeys in Derbyshire were made on commercially operated services.
The Department for Transport (DfT) had made it clear that adoption of Franchising or EPs was essential if LTAs were to receive future funding. Cabinet had agreed in June 2021 to enter into an EP arrangement with all of the bus operators who provide local bus services in Derbyshire and with other relevant stakeholders and a formal notice of intent to prepare an EP Plan was subsequently published.
The Council needed to publish a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) by 31 October 2021 and would be developed in collaboration with bus operators and other stakeholders. The BSIP would be used to judge how much of the £3bn Transformation Fund each LTA would be allocated for future bus projects and support. Formal agreement of the terms of the Partnership would take place to allow an EP to be in place, covering all of Derbyshire, from the 1 April 2022.
The Council’s Public Transport Unit and external consultants, Systra, had developed the project - undertaking detailed consultation across Derbyshire with key stakeholders. It was apparent that there were a number of broad themes where improvements were considered to be required – these were listed. A copy of the final draft of the BSIP was not yet available however the key interventions proposed for inclusion were also listed.
The Council estimated its proposed measures would cost between £85m and £95m over a five year period from 2022-23. A requirement for additional Council capital and revenue funding was likely. The DfT had said that LTAs which committed more of their own funding as part of the process was likely to receive more from the Government for their BSIP.
Once the BSIP was submitted, it was anticipated that the membership of the board would change (to that stated in the report) to include representatives from a variety of other stakeholders including representatives from passenger groups and borough and district councils. Workshops had been held to agree the area to concentrate on and the associated targets. Following the submission of the BSIP, the Board’s focus would change with particular emphasis on finalising the details of the EP agreement and an implementation plan for what measures should be introduced during the first year of the new arrangements in 2022-23.
Councillor Athwal added to the report: During the pandemic the DFT had supported local bus services by making bus recovery grants (BRG) to the bus operators to replace lost on bus fare revenue. The BRG payments would finish at the end of March 2022. In the week leading up to the Cabinet meeting, the DFT informed local transport authorities that any continuing revenue funding to support commercial bus services from April 2022 should be included in the BSIP bid.
The Council’s bid included just over £10m of bus revenue support for maintaining and enhancing the bus network over the next 5 years. In light of this last-minute change by the DFT and following intelligence received from our major operators on future funding to support the current network, increase our financial bid needed to increase by £10m to £20m.
Officers considered this amount to be sufficient and included some contingency to allow for any unforeseen changes to the commercial bus network over the next five years. This would ensure that the Council could continue to support the commercial bus operators until they return to full financial recovery, possibly by 2025, and ensure that bus services continue to operate across Derbyshire without any significant changes.
The Cabinet Member for Corporate Services and Budget welcomed the report and the start of a strategic vision to enhance public transport. The challenges in delivering a service across rural areas faced by the local authority, were recognised and thanked the incredible work of the transport department.
RESOLVED to (1) note the work undertaken on the development of the Enhanced Partnership including the formation of theBoard; (2) note the measures which are likely to form the key elements of the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) and the estimated funding bid to the Department of Transport (DfT) associated withit; (3) grant the Executive Director - Place in consultation with the Cabinet Member - Highways Assets and Transport delegated powers to agree the final wording of the BSIP which will be submitted to the DfT by 31 October2021; and (4) note the requirement for an increased commitment to revenue and capital funding from the County Council for public transport to support the Enhanced Partnership and BSIP over the mediumterm.