Early BSIP funding beneficiaries named in levelling up plan

Early BSIP funding allocations revealed in levelling up white paper

Identities of the first Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) submissions in England that are to receive funding have been revealed by the government in its Levelling Up the United Kingdom white paper, which has been cautiously welcomed by some in the industry.

It is expected that a comprehensive announcement on the full allocation of funding to BSIP submissions will be made by the end of February. However, the white paper states that in addition to mayoral combined authority areas, the government will fund ambitious plans for bus improvement, enhanced services and lower fares in Derbyshire, Luton, Portsmouth, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington “and many other places.”

Further discussions are to be held with respective local transport authorities in those locations, and others, “to ensure their commitment to the improvements set out in the National Bus Strategy (NBS),” the white paper continues. No detail of the sums to be paid to the areas named is provided.

Bus improvements form part of a commitment made in the white paper that local public transport connectivity across the country will be “significantly closer to the standards of London” in regard to services, fares and integrated ticketing. Such a target forms one of 12 “missions” outlined in the document. Progress will be measured and the government will have a statutory duty to report annually on progress.

In a further muddying of the waters around exactly what funding has been allocated to NBS aims, the white paper states that £3bn has been allocated to bus transformation in England during this Parliament.

That is despite Department for Transport Deputy Director, Bus Recovery and Reform, Local Transport Sharon Maddix having written to LTAs in January informing them that the budget for NBS-related improvements over the coming three financial years is now £1.4bn. Ms Maddix also cautioned that “prioritisation is inevitable” in BSIP funding decisions.

The white paper highlights the government’s ambition around bus priority measures in NBS-related improvements. Speaking at the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) Bus and Coach Conference on 25 January, Under-Secretary of State for Transport Baroness Vere also underlined the weight that the government attaches to priority measures. However, she later told delegates that ministers will not set targets for a reduction in car use and that any such change would be left to market dynamics.

A further key part of the white paper is an extension of mayoral devolution deals. That will include seeking to legislate to establish a new form of combined authority model to be made up of upper-tier local authorities. They would receive the same bus franchising powers as existing mayoral combined authorities and multi-year transport budgets.

FirstGroup quickly responded to the white paper. A spokesperson has welcomed its recognition of the central role that public transport plays in economic growth, but adds that the vision it contains “is best delivered through the expertise and innovation of private transport operators.”

CPT has also welcomed the white paper, describing it as “another vote of confidence in the crucial role of buses” in supporting the levelling up agenda.

However, CPT at the same time reminded ministers that they have “some crucial decisions to make in the coming weeks to ensure that people in every part of [England] have the bus network they need.” That must start with continuing support beyond the planned end of the Bus Recovery Grant scheme on 5 April, the Confederation says. It must continue beyond that with “a sustained, stable programme of investment in bus.”

Download the white paper here.