Bus plan failed to show ‘sufficient ambition’

By Jake Chown  
Thursday 14th April 2022 6:00 am

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COUNCILLORS have described the county authority’s failure to secure any investment from a Government fund to level up bus services as “desperately disappointing” for residents.

The Government confirmed the 31 local authorities that will benefit from a £7 billion package to “overhaul and level up” major local transport schemes last Monday (April 4) - with Gloucestershire set to miss out.

The county council had hoped to secure funding to deliver its Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), having liaised with local operators on a number of issues affecting services after the national strategy was announced in March last year.

Residents also took part in a survey on the future of the county’s bus services back in December.

Through the BSIP, the council had hoped to deliver improvements on issues including bus times and frequency, service priority, zero emissions vehicles, fares and tickets, passenger experience and information and branding.

A statement from the Department for Transport announcing the funding said: “The successful areas have been chosen because of their ambition to repeat the success achieved in London – which drove up bus usage and made the bus a natural choice for everyone, not just those without cars.

“As the Government stated in its national bus strategy,  areas not showing sufficient ambition, including for improvements to bus priority, would not be funded.”

Cllr Roger Whyborn (Benhall and Up Hatherley), who is the county’s Liberal Democrat group spokesperson for public transport, described the council’s failure to secure funding as “a huge blow” for local people.

Cllr Whyborn said: “This is desperately disappointing news to receive for our residents. 

“The County Council was hedging its bets on receiving tens of millions of pounds from national funding to prop up our impoverished bus network, so the failure to receive any money at all is a huge blow for all users.

 “As outlined in the Government’s own feedback – areas that were unsuccessful with their bids failed to show “sufficient ambition.”  

“This was something we highlighted when draft proposals were first shared with us last year – with the administration only seeking meagre increases in passenger numbers for the Government funding they expected to fall into their laps. 

 “Yet blame must also lie with Boris’ Tory Government, who dramatically slashed the total Bus Back Better funding from £3bn to £1.2bn, meaning only the very best proposals received their backing. 

“Sadly our bid failed to outline the public transport revolution that Gloucestershire desperately needed and therefore fell short of the required grade.

 “Given this failed bid – the Conservatives need to immediately review their budgets to give public transport in Gloucestershire the money it desperately needs, otherwise they’ll see the continued decline to this absolutely vital service.’

Cllr Philip Robinson (Con, Mitcheldean), who is the Cabinet Member responsible for public transport, said that despite the failed bid, the council would press ahead with planned improvements including the roll out of an ‘on demand’ bus service for the Forest of Dean.

“Unfortunately, BSIP funding was limited and only around 30% of councils were awarded money”, Cllr Robinson said.

“While this is disappointing news we have been assured that this is not a final ‘no’ and there will continue to be opportunities for future funding.

“We will indeed be working with the DfT to better understand how we can strengthen our BSIP.

“We remain committed to improving and supporting the many bus services we have in the county as buses are a green and sustainable way to travel that will help us meet our carbon emission targets.”

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