Calls for “beginning of the end” of bus deregulation in Leeds

A senior politician in Leeds hopes to see “the beginning of the end of bus deregulation” after announcing that the regional authority could “participate” in the sale of the region’s biggest bus company.
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It follows news earlier this year that First PLC had put its regional bus operations up for sale, before West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) said it would look into the possibility of “participating” in the sale.

WYCA agreed last month to spend £200,000 on “legal and consultancy support to assist with the development of options for future bus services in West Yorkshire”.

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At a meeting today, the chair of WYCA’s transport committee, Coun Kim Groves, said: “We face an unprecedented change in the provision of our bus services, possibly the beginning of the end of deregulation.

Could councils soon have powers over bus services?Could councils soon have powers over bus services?
Could councils soon have powers over bus services?

“To protect our residents we can’t just be passive observers and we are working to participate in the sale of the process of First West Yorkshire.

“[All city regions] are all at very different stages, but we share a common aim to get the best bus service for our people.

“This is a new direction and we have specialist advice to look at any options – I don’t want to speculate on the route at this early stage, as that work is under way and I will be taking it to a leaders’ meeting.

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“We are preparing for the process and we expect that to begin in the new year.”

She added that, in the meantime, WYCA would work with bus operators.

At its meeting on October 20, WYCA agreed to “explore options” to “consider options available to invest to secure the continuity and growth of bus services in West Yorkshire”.

Leeds councillor Neil Buckley asked: “[The law] does explicitly say that local authorities and combined authorities are not allowed to buy or run companies.

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“I know you said you didn’t want to speculate but we have phrases about influencing the sale, but what does it actually mean?”

Coun Groves said: “We are quite aware of the law but, as I said, we are exploring options and until I’ve taken that work back to the leaders, I am not going to comment any further.”

Kirklees councillor Peter McBride claimed local authorities had aspired to have power to run and regulate bus services ever since government deregulation in the mid-1980s.

He added: “We couldn’t fund that at the moment, but we could reasonably turn to the government and say ‘this is a wonderful way of investing in climate change and in public services’.

“The government would get its money back.”

WYCA is expected to be informed of its options in the coming months.