To publish and bring into effect Kent’s initial Enhanced Partnerships from 1st April 2022, subject to consultation with statutory consultees and two operator objection periods.
In March 2021 the Government published a National Bus Strategy (NBS) for England, setting out its aspirations for bus services across the country and three specific requirements for Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) and bus operators requiring delivery at pace:
· To commit in principle to the introduction of Enhanced Partnerships (EPs) by 1st July 2021.
· To publish and submit to DfT a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) by the end of October 2021
· To Implement the EP – consisting of an EP Plan and supporting EP Schemes by April 2022.
Failure to meet the above deadlines potentially jeopardises significant new and existing funding streams.
In response, following executive decisions by the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, on 28th June 2021 KCC published its stated intent to enter into negotiations with bus operators to form an EP for Kent and on 29th October 2021 KCC published and submitted the first version of its BSIP to the DfT. Kent’s BSIP sets out a bold vision for bus services and related infrastructure for the county in line with the aspirations of the NBS and requires significant funding from central Government to deliver.
In order to meet the third deadline, it is now the intention of the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport to make a further executive decision.
At the time of producing this decision document, there has been no announcement on the funding allocation that Kent will receive to support the NBS process and related EPs. Due to the statutory processes involved with introducing an EP, including a statutory consultation period and two potential 28-day operator objection periods, it is therefore not possible to introduce a “full” EP, taking account of Kent’s funding allocation and related commitments from April 2022. As such it is proposed to introduce a “shell” EP agreement from this date, setting out commitments from both parties in a no funding scenario. Commitments and funding investment within the “shell” schemes will then be subject to variation through a bespoke variation method between KCC and bus operators once Kent’s funding allocation is known and formal governance has been undertaken to agree on how funding will be prioritised.
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 third part of the process (EP publication / introduction). The latter course of action would put funding from the Government’s BSOG and BRG schemes at risk, taking some £7 million of annual funding out of Kent’s bus network.
Decision type: Key
Reason Key: Affects more than two Electoral Divisions;
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Division affected: (All Division);
Notice of proposed decision first published: 14/12/2021
Decision due: Not before 14th Jan 2022 by Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport
Lead member: Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport
Lead director: Philip Lightowler
Department: Growth, Environment & Transport
Financial implications: At this stage, there are no significant financial implications for KCC within the “shell” EP agreement, with commitments relating to existing or enhanced activity or smaller funding commitments to deliver initiatives such as a countywide interactive transport map. Once Kent’s NBS funding allocation is known, formal governance processes will be undertaken to agree prioritisation of any Government funding within EP Schemes.
Legal implications: Once an EP Plan and Schemes are made by the Council, measures and facilities agreed by the authority as well as commitments for bus operators will become a legally enforceable commitment. An EP is a statutory scheme with a procedure that must be followed, including the opportunity for operator objection. Following publication, an operator running bus services within the county (aside from those detailed as exempt within the document) must comply with the conditions and commitments set out within it.