North East Quality Contract Scheme goes to next stage
Despite intense opposition from the region’s operators, the North East Combined Authority (NECA) has agreed to submit proposals for the introduction of a Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for consideration by the national QCS Board.
The Board will rule on whether the correct process has been followed in developing the bus contracts scheme and if the plans pass five key public interest tests. The north east is the first part of the country to reach this stage in developing a Quality Contract Scheme under legislation introduced in 2000. The new scheme would see bus operators contracted to provide routes by NECA, rather than them deciding which services to run on the basis of market forces.
The proposed scheme is intended to allow NECA to reinvest part of the profit buses make in the region to improve local services, support the local economy and cater for local people’s needs. The QCS would apply to Tyne & Wear and to services which cross into Northumberland and County Durham. Leaders also agreed a protocol to avoid any adverse impacts on other services in Northumberland and County Durham.
Bus operators have proposed an alternative Voluntary Partnership Agreement which would see bus companies working together with the Combined Authority to provide a coordinated service under a formal voluntary agreement.
Chair of the North East Bus Operators’ Association (NEBOA), Kevin Carr, said, ‘We are very disappointed, but not surprised, at the decision to press on with the contract scheme. Nexus has convinced the leaders to take a huge gamble, needing an £80m contingency fund on top of £51m in guaranteed funding every year. This is the third set of bus contracts proposals and every one has been riddled with mistakes and financial flaws. The latest Nexus proposals don’t offer a single extra bus or any expansion of the bus network. Bus passengers in Tyne and Wear deserve better than this scheme, which will lead to higher fares, worse bus services and higher council tax bills.’
‘Today’s decision is not final. We expect a far more rigorous examination of the bus contracts proposals by the independent review board. The board has a duty to determine whether these plans meet key legal, economic and value for money tests. We do not believe these tests have been met and we will make robust arguments to the review board to demonstrate this. In any case, there is no evidence that the current system of delivering bus services has failed the North East. Our plans would make the bus network even stronger.’