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‘Bus Back Better’ funding wildly unbalanced, charity finds

Three years since Bus Back Better was published, charity Campaign for Better Transport have looked at how funding has been distributed across local authorities and found some extraordinary imbalances. 

It was on this day in 2021 that the Government published ‘Bus Back Better: national bus strategy for England’ with the stated aim of delivering better bus services for passengers across England.people sitting on red and blue bus seatLocal authorities were invited to bid for a share of £1.1 billion in Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) funding and in October 2021, 76 BSIPs were submitted to DfT (six Local Transport Authorities submitted joint bids).

In June 2022, 31 of the plans were offered funding, albeit not at at the level they were requesting. The unsuccessful submissions from that round received funding in Phase 2 in May 2023.

In October 2023, BSIP Phase 3 funding was announced for LTAs in the North and Midlands, as part of the Network North programme repurposing funding previously committed to HS2.

To examine how equitably the funding has been distributed, Campaign for Better Transport have calculated how much each local authority received per head of population, an exercise that revealed Portsmouth City Council have done very well for themselves indeed. 

Portsmouth’s funding equates to  £235.76 per head while, at the opposite end of the scale, Swindon Council received just £3.98 per head. 

The size of Portsmouth award is put into perspective by the fact that the next highest figure is Reading Borough Council’s £168.68. Only three other LAs broke the £100 a head mark while 27 received less than £10 per head.

Portsmouth were also one of 12 local authorities who received a share of £198m Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas funding in March 2022, which has enabled them to invest in a new fleet of electric buses.

Given that little progress seems to be being made – in the year to March 2023, bus provision fell by 5% – Campaign for Better Transport is calling for:

  • The current competitive system of bus funding to be replaced with a single, long-term funding pot for all
  • Commitment to guarantee minimum levels of bus service provision for all communities, with the funding allocations to match
  • Ringfenced bus funding to ensure it is not reallocated to other local authority priorities.

Silviya Barrett from the group said: ‘We are now three years on from the admirable ambitions published in Bus Back Better, and while improvements have been made in places, local authorities are still being let down when it comes to funding. Despite having the powers to improve bus services, many are still left without the funds to do so.

‘By asking areas to compete for bus funding, it is inevitable that there will be winners and losers with passengers suffering as a result. It’s time to change the way buses are funded, so that no matter where you live, your bus services can be protected and improved.’

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