North East QCS Board reports
Operators have welcomed the long awaited report by the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) Board on the proposed Tyne and Wear bus scheme promoted by the North East Combined Authority through its transport executive Nexus.
For Go North East, Kevin Carr, Managing Director, said, ‘The report confirms our belief that the proposed scheme for Tyne and Wear would not be good value for money for bus passengers or council tax payers when compared to the partnership proposal. Go North East has always believed that it already provides good quality, value for money services that meet customer’s needs at no risk to the tax payer. This is supported by one of the highest passenger satisfaction ratings in the UK, of 90%, by the government’s own independent watchdog Transport Focus.
Stagecoach welcomed the decision that the scheme has failed to meet the necessary statutory tests, adding ‘(it) believes the decision has clear implications for bus franchising powers linked to the government’s devolution programme. The forthcoming Buses Bill must provide a legislative framework for enhanced partnerships, and ensure any franchising proposals are subject to proper safeguards and a transparent public interest test.’
The QCS board, chaired by Traffic Commissioner for the North East of England, Kevin Rooney, was asked in October 2014 to examine the proposed QCS and report on whether the scheme meets the public interest criteria applicable to such schemes. It concluded that it did not meet these in four out of six tests:
- Nexus failed to comply with the statutory requirements on consultation.
- The proposed scheme cannot demonstrate that it would increase use of bus services because its affordability is not demonstrated
- Service quality would improve
- The proposed scheme would contribute to the implementation of the local transport policies
- The proposed scheme does not provide value for money
The proposed scheme imposes disproportionate adverse effects on operators
The board acknowledged the scale of the task they had been undertaking, noting, ‘this is the first time that the 15-year-old legislation supporting Quality Contract Schemes has been put to the test. It seems to us, that the legislators probably had in mind that it would be tested in a rather smaller scale first.’
In a summary of the board’s opinion, the report highlights the success of the process in bringing forward an alternative Voluntary Partnership Agreement proposed by the three major operators, ‘By its very nature, everything that Nexus was trying to assess was a novel intervention. There was little, if any, truly relevant research for them to draw upon. It is the board’s view that they have done exceptionally well to get where they have got to today. It is always far easier to criticise than to create. In the Voluntary Partnership Agreement, Nexus can be proud that it has led three bus companies to put forward a proposal that is in itself novel and groundbreaking, with the makings of potentially effective governance allowing local citizens real influence over their bus services.’
In their response, Nexus expressed their extreme disappointment in the Board’s findings adding, ‘the Combined Authority’s Leadership Board will consider the opinion of the QCS Board at its next meeting and decide whether to ask Nexus to refresh the technical analysis for a revised proposal, or whether to pursue other options. It is now highly unlikely that the Combined Authority can reform local bus services in 2017 as planned.’