Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure in the Welsh government, Ken Skates, has supported the bus industry in a written statement. He announced a five point plan designed to help the sector become more sustainable and better able to ride out temporary economic challenges. The first point involves offering all bus companies in Wales the assistance Business Wales and Finance Wales are able to provide. This includes dedicated professional support to review operators’ existing bus networks to create improved, more efficient ones. Skates plans to ask local authorities to ‘make every effort to protect their bus support in an economic climate that I recognise as being challenging, ensuring that public sector procurement is firmly rooted in the principles of mutual benefit for all parties to the agreement made’.
Ken pledged to work proactively with local authorities to identify potentially vulnerable bus services, and put in place a local strategy to respond to any planned withdrawal of services that are considered vital to the sustainability and wellbeing of the local community. He plans to meet the leaders of the local authorities in Cardiff and Newport together with the MDs of their bus companies, to gather intelligence on how sustainable bus networks can be operated whilst maintaining the social dividend. ‘Working with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, I am keen to secure the best characteristics of the private commercial sector with the social responsibility of the public sector operators in Wales.’
He aims to provide funding for the establishment of the role of a new bus co-ordinator post within one of the North and South Wales local authorities. This is expected to aid in bringing together all of the various strands of policy and investment and help to develop the statutory bus Quality Partnership model within the areas, which he believes is something that can be developed across Wales. He also announced a ‘Bus Services Summit’ for early 2017, which is intended to bring together local authorities, bus operators, Bus Users Cymru, the Community Transport Association, groups representing disabled people and other stakeholders.
Ken’s written statement said, ‘My ambition is to support the delivery of a quality, equitable and sustainable bus network that provides communities and individuals with services they need and achieves value for money for the public funding we provide. This summer, and despite the funding provided through schemes such as our Bus Services Support Grant and our free bus travel schemes for older people, I have been saddened by the demise of three local bus companies serving some of our more rural communities. I am keen to work with the bus industry, local government and passengers’ groups to deliver a stable or growing bus network, which I consider to be vital in providing people with the confidence to choose the bus. I know that action is needed to tackle congestion on our roads to improve journey times, reliability and punctuality. Congestion, especially at peak times, is a real issue for many bus operators. I welcome the commitment from bus operators in Wales to improve the quality and accessibility of our local bus services. These are challenges we need to face in partnership and we must recognise the additional pressures presented to our smaller bus operators.’
Chair of CPT Cymru, Justin Davies, said, ‘We welcome this statement from the Cabinet Secretary and his recognition of the problems that bus operators often face. The dialogue that he is establishing between the industry and local authorities, in particular, is a very positive development and we look forward to playing a full part in that dialogue. We are particularly pleased about Mr Skates’ enthusiastic support for a Bus Summit, which originally came out of discussions between CPT, Welsh Government officials and transport officers from Local Authorities across Wales.’