Announced last year, the Government’s Bus Back Better plan involved a £3 billion pot of cash that local transport authorities could bid for. Boris Johnson proposed the fund as part of his “levelling up” agenda, and it was hoped that the funding could help improve bus services across the country at a time they were emerging from lockdown – a period that saw passenger numbers plummet.
Making the announcement, the Government said it would provide “£3bn of new funding to level up buses across England towards London standards.”
West Yorkshire Combined Authority was one of the authorities that had made a bid for a share of the cash, claiming the funding could boost the region’s ailing bus services and encourage more people to swap cars for public transport.
But a report in The Guardian on Sunday claimed leaked documents revealed that the funding pot was due to be slashed, from £3b to £1.4b.
It also suggests that the total value of the various bids made across the country was likely to be around £9b – meaning just a fraction of the proposed improvements were likely to get funding.
However, the Department for Transport disputes the claim funding will be slashed, but say much of the £3b will be “invested nationally.”
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, said the news was a further blow to the region after plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail, a high speed rail link between Northern cities including Leeds, Bradford and Manchester, was scrapped in November, and the HS2 line to Leeds also faced the chop.
She said: “The decision by Government to cut the funding available for bus service improvement by over 50 per cent is a major blow for our region.
“After losing out on long-promised rail investment – with the scrapping of HS2 and paring-back of Northern Powerhouse Rail – we in the North of England were counting on this funding, so we could deliver the green, reliable and affordable bus network our people deserve.
“Sadly, money that would have been spent on transformation will now be spent on supporting ailing companies and subsidising existing services.
“Once again, local areas were promised levelling up, but are having to settle for managed decline. When you have operators struggling through Covid, a cost-of-living crisis and a climate emergency, now was the time to invest in our public transport.
“With the right ambition, I know that we can get people out of their cars and onto buses. Working with operators, I was able to make bus travel completely free for a day during COP26, raising awareness of climate change and driving up footfall by 13 per cent even on a cold, wet Sunday.
“In London, people choose the bus by default every day because it’s the best, cheapest and quickest way to get around. I wanted that for West Yorkshire. But when even the Government acknowledges that your ambitions exceed the amount they’re willing to pay, you have to question their commitment to levelling-up.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “It is incorrect to claim that funding has been cut from our original ambition. Over this Parliament, the Government has committed to making a step change investment of over £3bn into bus services.
“This includes £1.2bn in dedicated new funding to deliver improvements in fares, services and infrastructure, and a further £355m of new funding for zero emission buses.”
They argued that some of the £3b investment was being invested nationally rather than being given to Local Authorities.
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