‘Shocking’ bus funding imbalance, says Campaign

There is a ‘shocking’ imbalance between ‘winners and losers’ when it comes to government bus funding, according to the Campaign for Better Transport. The campaign group has revealed figures showing up to £230 per head difference between local authority areas.

Analysis by Campaign for Better Transport has revealed a striking imbalance across the country with 12 councils receiving over £50 per head to improve bus services from central government, compared to 15 councils that have received less than £6 per head. At the top end, Portsmouth City Council received £235.76 per head in government bus funding, while Swindon Council received just £3.98 per head.

The figures have been released on the third anniversary of the publication of Bus Back Better, the government’s national bus strategy for England. Campaign for Better Transport is calling for reforms to bus funding to help realise the ambitions of the national bus strategy and ensure all areas receive the funds they need.

To calculate the allocations per head, the Campaign’s analysis combined the allocations announced on gov.uk from the following funding sources and divided the sum by the population of that local authority area: Original BSIP (2022 to 2025), BSIP+ (2023/24 and 2024/25), the initial £150 million funding covering 2024/25 allocated from a total of £1 billion dedicated for buses from Network North for northern and midlands authorities only.

“Despite having the powers to improve bus services, many are still left without the funds to do so” – Silviya Barrett from charity Campaign for Better Transport

Silviya Barrett from charity Campaign for Better Transport, said: “We are now three years on from the admirable ambitions published in Bus Back Better, and while improvements have been made in places, local authorities are still being let down when it comes to funding. Despite having the powers to improve bus services, many are still left without the funds to do so.

“By asking areas to compete for bus funding, it is inevitable that there will be winners and losers with passengers suffering as a result. It’s time to change the way buses are funded, so that no matter where you live, your bus services can be protected and improved.”

The campaign group highlights almost two thirds of applicants received no share of the share of £1.1 billion in Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) funding. Of the 31 local authorities that were successful, the money awarded was less than they had applied for. The Campaign notes that smaller, rural county councils lost out to larger combined authorities with more experienced transport teams. For 2023-2025, all local authorities who had originally been unsuccessful received a cut of additional funding (BSIP +), but these sums were smaller.

An additional £1bn of bus funding was made available through ‘Network North’, a £36bn pot reallocated from the cancellation of HS2 north of Birmingham. Only councils in the North and Midlands were eligible for this, meaning authorities in the East, South East and South West missed out. £150 million of this has so far been allocated.

Campaign for Better Transport is calling for:

  • The current competitive system of bus funding to be replaced with a single, long-term funding pot for all.

  • Commitment to guarantee minimum levels of bus service provision for all communities, with the funding allocations to match.

  • Ringfenced bus funding to ensure it is not reallocated to other local authority priorities.

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