On 15th March 2021, the Department for Transport (DfT) published its wide-ranging National Bus Strategy (NBS) entitled “Bus Back Better”.
It is a strategy which sets out ambitious goals covering a range of key areas supporting bus operation. The NBS is backed by £3 billion of investment across England and a commitment to repurpose current funding. It is aimed at seeing passengers benefiting from “more frequent, more reliable, easier to use, easier to understand, better coordinated and cheaper bus services.”
There is an expectation that LTAs will work closely in partnership with bus operators, particularly those with commercial services, to better integrate bus routes and ticketing to make travel easier for passengers.
The strategy sets an ambitious timeline for LTAs to comply with the strategy, which allows continued access to both current and future funding. Operators also need to co-operate with this process to retain their funding streams.
The timelines dictate that it has not been possible to follow normal governance processes for development and sign off of this version of the BSIP but officers have sought to engage with all Members and other stakeholders throughout its formation and have developed a program that will allow for greater input to the version that will be formed following understanding of the funding settlement.
The required timelines to be met are as follows:
1. LTAs and bus operators must commit in principle to the introduction of EPs by 1st July 2021 – Complete
2. LTAs are required to publish a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) by the end of October 2021 – The purpose of this decision.
3. The EP will be developed in line with the Statutory processes to achieve implementation of the EP Plan and EP Schemes by April 2022.
The NBS effectively narrows the decision down to just two options. Firstly, to comply with the procedure and timescales set out by the DfT, or secondly, not to proceed with this second part of the process (BSIP publication). The latter course of action would put funding from the Government’s BSOG and CBSSG schemes at risk, taking some £7 million of annual funding out of Kent’s bus network.
Decision type: Non-key
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Division affected: (All Division);
Notice of proposed decision first published: 04/10/2021
Decision due: Not before 21st Oct 2021 by Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport
Department: Growth, Environment & Transport
Public consultation via Let’s Talk Kent has been undertaken to inform priorities and attract suggestions for service enhancements.
Workshops have been conducted with District Councils and other stakeholders and two KCC Member briefings have been held.
This is an iterative process and further engagement through the same channels is proposed to review the BSIP in light of the funding settlement and as we work towards the formation of our EP Plan and Schemes.
Cabinet Committee consultation planned
Subject to the timing of the funding settlement, a paper will be presented to Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee at an appropriate point to help inform the implementation of initiatives in the BSIP and their relationship to EP plans and schemes.
Financial implications: At this stage, there are no significant financial implications to KCC whilst plans are being developed. The BSIP is to be published by the end of October 2021 and submitted to the DfT who will then advise Kent’s funding allocation. Once this is known, the EP can then be formed out of the BSIP action plans for introduction from April 2022. It is by that point that the Council will need to have committed to investment in the partnerships. Further papers will be submitted to Cabinet at appropriate points including proposals for KCC expenditure.
Legal implications: Once an EP Plan and Schemes are made by the Council, measures and facilities agreed by the authority will become a legally enforceable commitment. An EP is a statutory scheme with a procedure that must be followed.
Equalities implications: The EQIA screening process has indicated that there are no expected adverse effects arising from the BSIP. Depending on funding levels awarded, there are potentially positive equality benefits.