Wishes can come true
Rather belatedly, I discover that my own council tax bill now includes a £12 ‘precept’ ring-fenced for bus service support. This happened in January, around the same time that I was extolling the virtues of the idea, put forward by the mayor.
A Mayoral General Precept can be applied by some combined authorities to raise further support for public services and, in the case of Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority, one has been applied purely to support bus services. At the time that the Mayor, Dr Nik Johnson, proposed the idea, one of the council leaders unwisely countered with the idea that, because he never catches a bus, he saw no reason to pay it.
The meagre £12 won’t be noticed, financially, by any council tax payer in Band D (which is the £12 rate) but raises an additional £3.6 million, to catch up on a predicted £7m package of service subsidies. The budget before the precept was £3.5m – well short of the support needed. A similar precept has been applied by Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham; other local authorities including Bath & North East Somerset have mooted they would like to raise bus support with a precept.
‘Buses are integral to a cleaner, healthier and lower carbon future for our region, and so our work to make services better is vital. For every £1 invested in local bus priority measures, up to £7 of net economic benefit is delivered,’ the CPCA says, quite rightly. ‘Additionally, it is estimated that it takes just three buses to replace as many as 200 cars on the road. If we needed to reduce services due to a lack of funding, removing buses will increase congestion, which in turn will affect the physical and mental wellbeing of residents across the Combined Authority region.’
I would now like to see bus operators at the absolute forefront of the decision-making process as services are modified and cast to get the best from the spend. It is now vital that the ‘public v private’ nonsense is left at the door, and that co-operation becomes routine
Personally (and I am among those paying this precept) I’d prefer it were more, to give the CPCA a ring-fenced, resilient bus funding budget. Currently, the authority admits that subsidies have risen considerably, as prices rise to meet inflationary pressures on operators. Next, the CPCA says, will come a reckoning of what their money has bought, and measures to improve the cost-effectiveness of the budget.
Leaving bus support in the general council funding with an ephemeral budget dictated by other vagaries, including central government funding, is not fit for purpose; the localised, precept funding model is a better idea, ensuring residents ‘pay forward’ for transport they will one day require, and allows for longer-term planning.
I applaud the vision of Nik Johnson and supporters at the CPCA. I would now like to see bus operators at the absolute forefront of the decision-making process as services are modified and cast to get the best from the spend. It is now vital that the ‘public v private’ nonsense is left at the door, and that co-operation becomes routine. The primary goal MUST be persuading car drivers to make more journeys by bus.
For make no mistake, bus operators may be grateful for public money to support flagging services but their eyes really light up when more passengers climb aboard. Even with this funding model, there’s significant risk of losing support unexpectedly. Farebox revenue generally changes gradually, giving time to think again and adjust, and higher farebox revenues mean lower subsidies. In other words, by catching the bus, council tax payers can reduce their bill.