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January 11 2017
By Westminster Watcher

Our man based in Westminster is a seasoned political watcher follows the implications on the coach, bus and minibus industry of debates and decisions being made by politicians both in London, as well as the devolved regions. The nature of his role and contacts means he has to remain anonymous, as he keeps his finger on the political pulse...

Starting a glorious new era?

Will 2017 be the year that bus franchising finally comes to Greater Manchester, or at least substantive progress is made with the procurement process?

Royal Assent to the Bus Services Bill is scheduled for end March, and as I understand it the Greater Manchester Combined Authority wants to get going with the franchise procurement process as quickly as possible thereafter.

Depending on your point of view, this is either the start of a glorious new era for bus services in Manchester, or the end of the world as we know it.

Readers will be aware where I stand on the issue of regulation versus deregulation. If I were a neutral bystander part of me would be saying “bring it on”, because I would want to see if franchising can work, or not.

The trouble is that in the early months, or at least the first year, it may look as if it’s working.

But when the money runs out, what does the Combined Authority do? Go running to the Department for Transport to be bailed out? No chance of that, I can assure you.

Or does it put up Council Tax to raise the additional funds that will become necessary? I have a suspicion that Councillors will shy away from that, as they won’t want to risk a backlash from the local electorate. And then, I fear, it will all end in tears.

But the bigger issue for 2017 must be Brexit. With Theresa May determined to trigger Article 50 by 31 March, the negotiations to determine the terms of our exit from the EU will then start in earnest.

Brexit probably more directly affects the coach industry than bus operators, but I would urge all parties to watch developments closely.

This is a step into the unknown, and I don’t think anybody, from Theresa May and Angela Merkel downwards, has a clue how the negotiations will pan out. As with bus franchising, so with Brexit we are either marching towards a promised land filled with milk and honey, or towards Armageddon.

But, as of today, we still don’t really know if Theresa May is serious when she says she won’t call an early general election, or whether she’s bluffing.

If the Conservatives perform well in the Copeland by-election and win this seat off Labour with a convincing majority, then I can see Theresa May increasingly tempted to go to the country sometime soon. Why wouldn’t she, as the Conservatives have a 15% lead over Labour in the polls.

There is much to look forward to in 2017, with either a sense of great excitement at the opportunities ahead, or with trepidation at the risks and dangers that we will have to navigate our way through. Either way 2017 holds the prospect of being as tumultuous as was 2016. 

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