The Conservative MP has highlighted some ‘specific’ proposals for the bus industry
A couple of weeks ago I suggested that Stephen Hammond, the Conservative MP for Wimbledon, would make a great Chair of the Transport Select Committee. Well, he didn’t even apply for the job. Instead, it’s gone to Huw Merriman, the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle since 2015.
Huw Merriman has actually been a member of the Committee since he became an MP, and occasionally deputised for the previous Chair, Lilian Greenwood. I have to say I’ve always been quite impressed, for my money he was one of the best members of the Committee: Well informed, rigorous in his questioning of witnesses but without being unnecessarily aggressive.
In his statement as to why he was standing for the Chair, he said he did not believe that the transport sector delivers value for the UK, with too many revolving doors, a lack of competition, accountability and responsibility leading to poor service and provision.
And he highlighted some specific proposals for the bus industry. A bus route, he believes, should become an Asset of Community Value – meaning, like pubs, the service would have to remain running for six months “to encourage new providers to step in and save routes before they vanish.”
In the past he has also called for bus services to be retained where essential public services, such as GP surgeries, are on a route.
I must confess I’ve never quite seen a bus service in the same context as a local pub. Nor do I entirely follow his thinking that requiring a route to run for a minimum of six months will encourage new providers.
Desirable as that may be from one perspective, surely this kind of inflexibility might actually deter new providers and simply play into the hands of the “big five” operators.
Be that as it may, it seems clear to me that Huw Merriman is not going to give the bus industry an easy time as and when the Committee gets around to holding its next inquiry into the industry. Nor should he, of course.
I suspect he won’t give any witness, or any sector, an easy time. He will be well informed, robust in his questioning and perhaps rather more forensic than I felt Lilian Greenwood and, before her, Louise Ellman, ever were.
In this new parliament there is an opportunity for the Transport Committee to change the dynamic of its inquiries. Historically, these have tended to be very focused on the performance of a particular mode of transport, or to probe performance of the delivery of particular projects.
I think it would be more interesting to hold inquires to assess how transport contributes to wider economic and social policy agendas and objectives, and how the industry, and indeed the Department for Transport (DfT) itself, can be held more accountable for its performance than I believe it currently is – a point on which I wholeheartedly agree with Huw Merriman.
I’m looking forward to seeing Huw Merriman in action.