Bus industry lobbying saw new independent auditor requirement

 

 

The Bus Services Bill finally received Royal Assent last week, ending fears that prime minister Theresa May’s decision to hold a snap general election on June 8 could have stalled this important legislation that has won broad cross-industry support. In the event the Bill was one of the final actions by parliament before it was dissolved on May 2.

The House of Commons had already approved the Bill last month but it was then passed back to the House of Lords where peers considered MPs’ amendments in the so called ‘Ping Pong’ procedure. Peers then voted last week to accept the Bill as received from the Commons.

The new Bus Services Act includes powers for two new forms of partnership working – advanced and enhanced – and gives mayoral combined authorities the power to implement bus franchising without needing consent from the secretary of state for transport. There are also important requirements relating to the matter of open data.

A number of peers welcomed the government’s late decision to amend the Bill to ensure that auditors of bus franchising plans prepared by mayoral combined authorities must be independent of the local authority scheme promoter. Passenger Transport understands that the inclusion of this amendment followed heavy lobbying from bus industry lobbyists.

Transport minister Lord Ahmad confirmed that this auditor must be an independent individual and that franchising authorities must have regard to the guidance issued by the secretary of state when selecting their auditors.

“Auditing a franchise assessment is perhaps one of the most critical steps on the road to franchising,” said Conservative peer Lord Attlee. “If the auditor says that the franchise stacks up and meets all the other quite onerous requirements, there is little more to be said. For that reason, the person carrying out the audit should have no ties with the franchising authority and certainly no vested interest in seeing the franchise proceed, or otherwise.”

The House of Commons had already struck down a Lords amendment that would have given all local transport authorities franchising powers. It had also reinserted a clause banning local authorities from setting up municipal bus companies. The Lords had previously deleted that element of the Bill.

With the Bus Services Act now law, its passing of the final parliamentary hurdles has been welcomed by the industry on both sides of the franchising fence, although for differing reasons.

Transport leaders in Greater Manchester, who have expressed their intention to closely look at the possibilities offered by franchising as aresult of the legislation, said the Bus Services Act would allow the region’s soon-to-be elected mayor to make significant changes to the way bus services are managed.

“Bus travel accounts for four in every five public transport journeys in our region and with a growing population we need a transport system which keeps our city moving, helping people to access jobs, education and services and connecting communities,” said Andrew Fender, chair of the TfGM Committee.

The powers in this Act could help to deliver a consistent and joined-up transport network

“The powers in this Act could help to deliver a consistent and joined-up transport network with coordinated routes, simpler fares, integrated ticketing and consistent quality standards. We want bus to play a full role as part of an integrated, reliable, safe, clean and affordable transport network.”

The partnership aspects of the legislation were particularly welcomed by the Confederation of Passenger Transport. Chief executive Simon Posner said that bus users outside London were already well served by the commercial market.

“It has stemmed the decline in patronage and given bus operators the flexibility to respond to passenger needs and aspirations,” he claimed. “The Act offers exciting opportunities for operators and local authorities to take decisive steps that make buses the obvious way to get around.”

However, Posner said that the industry remained concerned about the franchising powers handed to mayoral combined authorities, but welcomed the news that a “very robust and transparent assessment process” of auditing was specified by the Act.

“Measures concerning open data and accessible passenger information are also welcome,” Posner added.

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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