Tag Archives: deregulation

Let’s re-regulate our buses – and put (our) service before (their) profits

Faced with the major collapse of  rural bus ‘services’ in Suffolk, I have long been calling  on both Suffolk County Council and our government to look at re-regulation of rural bus services.  The response of both  institutions has been largely negative, despite clear evidence that ‘competition’ and ‘market forces’ have done absolutely nothing to benefit rural users .

Yet re-regulation  is not impossible.

Last Friday the five Tyne and Wear councils voted to start the consultation necessary to re-regulate their buses . It will be the first region to take the plunge since the silly and ideologically driven  deregulation  of bus services in the 1980s. Re-regulation  will allow the region to aim once again for the efficiency, coverage and price which is standard for bus services  in regulated London by giving bus companies franchises to run  all local services, instead of letting them cherry-pick the ones on which they can make the most money.

Deregulated bus services are in a parlous state.  Tyne and Wear was warned that without change, all local school buses would go; a further 200 bus routes would likely disappear, and concessionary child fares would vanish. However, if the councils take over the bus routes, they could use the current subsidy and profits to grow the service to make it meet the needs of all residents.

Just as we did in the old days.

It’s not rocket science is it?

Hardly surprising that other local authorities are showing interest in doing the same.

The big bus companies may well not be in favour of these schemes – and with good cause. According to the FT “Bus companies earn higher margins outside London.. Stagecoach makes an average of 17 per cent outside London, while the figure for Go-Ahead is 10 per cent.” The FT says  that in contrast, average London operators make between 4 and 5 %.

Buses are Britain’s main form of public transport, and in the old days the concept of bus ‘services’ meant service: popular routes would fund socially necessary but less income-generating services elsewhere. De-regulation was heralded by the Thatcher administration as providing competition, but in fact since the 80s some big bus companies have  used their size to see off other competitors   creating  local monopolies  which do not benefit passengers at all .  In Woodbridge, First Group recently were running identical routes against rival Anglian Buses  at identical times. Anglian Buses no longer run these services, and Woodbridge residents have lost out.

Competition?  Bus companies should be forced to compete with each other to  provide proper services rather than to maximise profits. I once again call upon Suffolk County Council and my local MP, Dr Coffey, to do everything they can to make this possible.

Suffolk Buses reach their Beeching moment?

The First Bus decision to pull the plug on their Bury St Edmunds services and close the depot at the end of March  is a further step in the apparently unstoppable destruction of Suffolk’s public transport services. It is particularly tragic because – after Beeching’s shortsighted and illjudged railway decisions of the 60s – many parts of Suffolk are now not served by rail and have only a bus service to rely on. 
 
Now it’s Suffolk bus services that are at a Beeching moment.  Sadly, many council tax payers are are left reliant on the decisions of a county council administration that doesn’t value or support bus transport and that has made bus services the focus of recent budget cuts (remember, for example the Bury Road Park and Ride closure (details here)? last year’s loss of all evening/Sunday bus services to Woodbridge and beyond (details here)?). Such cuts have little personal impact on any councillor or officer who runs a car, and yet these are the people making the decisions.
 
SCC needs to remember that the impact of poor/non-existent bus services is felt amongst other very real people. People who pay their council taxes and contribute to the community but who also happen to be elderly, or poor, or disabled, as well as others who rely on the bus to reach their college or first time job in order to contribute to the future of Suffolk.  SCC decisionmaking should be addressing these people’s needs as well as pandering to those residents who pay no more tax but are lucky enough to be able to use a car!
 
Of course, we shouldn’t put all the blame on the county council. At national level, the Coalition needs to reverse the iniquitous deregulation of bus services, instituted under Thatcher, and shamefully supported by the last Labour government. Deregulation has left rural communities at the mercy of bus companies with little local interest or management presence, who can run the moneymaking routes as poorly as they choose. The County Council, on the other hand,  is only allowed to run ones that run at a loss.
 
Tell me, is this how the ‘free market’ gives us a better service?
 
Despite this,  SCC could choose to be far more proactive than it has been. It could lobby both Suffolk’s MPs and central government for increased support for rural public transport. It could also show that SCC cares though direct action to preserve scheduled bus services. In July’s council meeting, I proposed a motion to increase support to disabled and elderly bus user (details here) via improved bus pass conditions. This motion was passed almost unanimously by full council and referred back to the Cabinet.
 
Since July, Cabinet has overseen the revision, recasting, re-consultation, decisionmaking and embarkation of their new Library services despite few Suffolk residents wanting any change whatsoever. Many many Suffolk residents want changes to the new terms and conditions for bus pass holders. Has Cabinet looked at bus passes?  Six months on we’re still waiting for a date!
 
By the way, I note with interest that passengers who wish to register a complaint about the withdrawal of the Bury St Edmunds services are ‘advised to contact First buses directly on 08456 020 121’. I suggest that this is precisely what people should do
 
This is a slightly extended version of my letter to the EADT  published today, 18-01-2012. 

A Quick Question for Suffolk Labour activists

C’m on, folks, make your minds up. Is the lesser political party in a coalition responsible or not for the actions of the whole?  Helpful hint: We need a YES or a NO here.

Yet Labour activists in Suffolk have difficulty with this one.

When it comes to decisions made at Suffolk County Council,  pre-2005 (a Labour/Lib Dem coalition for those who do not suffer from political amnesia) they  remember it  as if these were their decisions  – and theirs alone.   As in:

“Labour left an exemplary council in 2005, since then this morally bankrupt group of Conservatives have done their best to run Suffolk services into the ground.”

Julian Swainson 2 Feb, “Don’t Privatise Suffolk Services” Facebook group

Yet suddenly,  when it’s politically expedient, when it’s a NATIONAL coalition  (in which it’s clear that the Lib Dems take a small – but ameliorating – role in sorting out the financial debacle of the previous Labour administration)  then suddenly all we hear from Labour is that the resultant problems are all the Lib Dems’ fault.

Yes – right.   And I’m the Akond of Swat.

Do you know, a  prominent Suffolk  Labour councillor had the crust to say to me the other day:   ” I don’t know how a moral person could be a Lib Dem.”  (Brave fellow, eh? Luckily for him  he didn’t know I go to boxing classes. My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure..)

And yet he was  totally flabbergasted when I replied:

“Torture, rendition, war crimes, denial of democracy,  total failure to support public transport and social housing  in times of plenty, privatisation of the NHS by the back door, destruction of our finances by cosying up to, and deregulating the banks,   threatening to cut ‘worse than Margaret Thatcher’ when in power  and then total amnesia afterwards..   Me,  I wonder how any moral person could ever have stayed with your morally bankrupt party!”

It’s like he was believing his own spin!

Come on,  guys – don’t be such hypocrites.  Be grateful that at local AND national level there is the quiet voice of common sense to ameliorate the extravagant  amnesia of right and left alike.

At the moment we Lib Dems are providing the only practical and vocal opposition to the excesses of  Suffolk’s Tory administration, and their bureaucrats’  heaven, the NSD.  United we jolly well ought to stand.  Divided, I’m happy to point out your deficiencies.