MPs urge Chancellor to protect bus services in spending review

Published on Monday, 24 June 2013 10:22
Written by Scott Buckler

Funding for local bus services should be protected in the Spending Review due to be announced on Wednesday, according to Parliament's cross-party green watchdog

Tight budgets, reductions in bus services, increases in fares and a further concentration of public services are worsening transport accessibility for vulnerable groups within society, the MPs warn. Accessibility statistics show travel times to key services steadily increasing over time, particularly for access to hospitals — with nearly half of the population not having reasonable access.

Committee Chair

Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Joan Walley MP, said:

"If the Chancellor cuts funding for bus services this week he will be making life harder for the young adults, pensioners, disabled and rural people that are already disadvantaged by the poor provision of affordable public transport in this country.

"Growing numbers rely on public transport to get to job interviews or work, attend college or training, visit hospital or access other public services."

"The Government must concentrate on coordinating transport schemes and making sure fares are affordable to ensure everyone has access to economic opportunities and public services."

Concerns have been raised by 30 NGOs and representative groups that grants to local authorities and direct funding to bus operators will be cut as part of the Government's deficit reduction plans. The 2010 Spending Review led to an estimated 70% of local authorities reducing funding for bus services, with one in five being cut.

The Committee urges the Department for Transport to focus more closely on improving accessibility as well as on supporting the economy. It recommends that existing transport funding should be better coordinated and directed to accessibility-focused initiatives, and the social value of transport explicitly considered in policy-making. A new cross-government working group of officials and Ministers should be charged with ensuring that this cross-cutting issue no longer falls between the gaps. The Government's forthcoming Transport Strategy is an opportunity to set out how new arrangements will work.

The Committee was following up a 2003 Government report which found that problems with transport provision and the location of public services were reinforcing social exclusion by preventing people from accessing key local services and activities, such as jobs, learning, healthcare, food shopping or leisure.

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