Labour leader uses Prime Minister’s Questions to raise concerns about the plight of local bus services

 

They are the workhorse of our public transport system, carrying twice as many passengers as the railways and providing vital links for communities – yet many were bemused when Jeremy Corbyn put buses in the spotlight at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

Theresa May was probably expecting Corbyn to ask her about her party’s bitter division over Brexit or work and pensions secretary Esther McVey’s apology to Parliament for misleading MPs about Universal Credit – she was perhaps unaware that it is ‘Catch the Bus Week‘.

Here is a summary of their exchange across the despatch box:

Jeremy Corbyn:

“With fares rising above inflation, passenger numbers falling and services being cut, does the Prime Minister accept her failure on yet another public service: the buses?”

Theresa May:

“On his point about buses, I merely ​point out to him that we should look at the responsibility that local authorities up and down the country have for the buses.”

Jeremy Corbyn:

“Since 2010, her Government have cut 46% from bus budgets in England and passenger numbers have fallen, and, among the elderly and disabled, they have fallen by 10%. Her Government belatedly committed to keeping the free bus pass, but a bus pass is not much use if there is not a bus. Does she think it is fair that bus fares have risen by 13% more than inflation since 2010?”

Theresa May:

“It was right that we made that commitment in relation to bus passes. What we are seeing across the country is that, as people’s working habits are changing, there is less usage of buses, but we are working with local authorities on this. Local authorities have many responsibilities in relation to buses, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman asks some of those local authorities what they are doing about the buses in their own areas.”

Jeremy Corbyn:

“Under this Government, fares have risen three times faster than people’s pay. Bus users are often people on lower incomes whose wages are lower than they were 10 years ago in real terms and who have suffered a benefits-freeze. Under the stewardship of this Government, 500 bus routes have been cut every year, leaving many people more isolated and lonely and damaging our local communities. Does the Prime Minister believe that bus services are a public responsibility, or just something that we leave to the market?”

Theresa May:

“I have made the point on two occasions about the responsibilities that others have in relation to buses. The right hon. Gentleman might, for example, look at what the Mayor of London—who when I last looked was a Labour politician – is doing in relation to buses in London. The right hon. Gentleman talks also about the impact of fares on lower-income people. It is important that we consider the situation of people who are on low incomes. That is why it is this Government who introduced the national living wage and have increased the national living wage. That is why it is this Government who have taken four million people out of paying income tax altogether. That is helping people on low incomes in this country.”

Jeremy Corbyn:

“When Sadiq Khan ran for Mayor of London, he promised to freeze bus fares, and what has he done? He has frozen bus fares. [Interruption.] If the Prime Minister is concerned about the travelcard fares, she should speak to the Secretary of State for Transport: he is the one who sets that fare. Bus routes are being wiped out: 26 million fewer journeys have been made across the north of England and the midlands under her Government. So much for a northern powerhouse and a midlands engine. Can we be clear: does the Prime Minister think that deregulation of the bus industry, putting profit before passengers, has been a success or a failure?”

Theresa May:

“The right hon. Gentleman talks about what the Mayor of London has done, but what have we seen in the number of people using buses in London? It has gone down under the current Mayor. If he wants to talk about what Mayors are doing, I am very happy to talk about what Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, has done; he has extended free bus fares to apprentices and students.”

Jeremy Corbyn:

“It will be a Labour Government who save the bus industry and who give free fares to under 26-year-olds. The truth is that since deregulation fares have risen faster than inflation, ridership has fallen and these private bus monopolies have made a profit of £3.3 billion since 2010. That is what the Tories give us in public transport. The Government have given Metro Mayors the powers to franchise and regulate to secure better services. Why will they not extend that power to all local authorities?”

Theresa May:

“Of course, the local authorities have some responsibilities and capabilities in relation to subsidising bus routes and fares; and, yes, we have given those powers to the Metro Mayors. The right hon. Gentleman earlier referenced what was happening in the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. I will tell him what is happening: more investment in our public transport; more investment in our roads; and more investment in the infrastructure that brings jobs to people in the north and across the midlands.”

Jeremy Corbyn:

“It is a shame that this Government are so shy of giving powers to local authorities, and are instead more interested in cutting their resources. Bus services are in crisis under this Government. Fares are increasing, routes are being cut and passenger numbers are falling. The situation is isolating elderly and disabled people, damaging communities and high streets, and leading to more congestion in our towns and cities, with people spending more time travelling to work or school. It is bad for our climate change commitments and for our air quality. Will the Prime Minister at last recognise the crucial importance of often the only mode of transport available for many people by ending the cuts to bus budgets and giving councils the power to ensure that everyone gets a regulated bus service, wherever they live?”

Theresa May:

“I will take no lessons from the right hon. Gentleman in devolution to local authorities. Which party has established the Metro Mayors and given them those powers? It is the Conservative party in government. Which party is doing growth deals around the country, giving local authorities new responsibilities? It is this Conservative Government. And what did we ​see in the north-east? When we were talking to Labour councils in the north-east about a devolution deal, Labour council leaders there rejected that devolution. That is what the Labour party is doing. The right hon. Gentleman wants to know what this Government are delivering for the people of the north, the south, the midlands – for every part of this country. We are delivering record high employment, rising wages, falling borrowing, stronger environmental protection and a Britain fit for the future.”

Reaction (on Twitter):

Andy McDonald MP (@AndyMcDonaldMP), Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
“That Theresa May couldn’t answer a single question Jeremy Corbyn put to her on the national buses crisis shows just how out-of-touch this Government are with working class people across the country”

Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn), Political Editor of The Sun
“All 6 questions from Corbyn on bus services. Because that’s the subject the Govt is currently imploding over after all”

John Crace (@JohnJCrace), Parliamentary sketch writer for Guardian
“The govt is collapsing over Brexit; Esther McVey should be sacked and Corbyn and May are arguing over buses. End of days”

Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov), UK Political Editor of Business Insider
“Lots of sneering by MPs and commentators about Corbyn asking questions about buses. The dire state of the country’s bus services affects far more people than the future of Esther McVey or the latest indecipherable Cabinet development on Brexit customs arrangements ever will”

Dan Bloom (@danbloom1), Daily Mirror political reporter
“Big fan of Corbyn going on buses, it’s maybe not obvious but is one of our most neglected issues down in Westminster”

Steve Rotheram (@MetroMayorSteve), Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region
“Jeremy was absolutely right to raise this at #PMQs today. 82% of public transport journeys in the Liverpool City Region are made by bus. Stay tuned for some announcements about our buses next week”

Jon Stone (@joncstone), Europe Correspondent at The Independent
“Theresa May came out of that looking like she doesn’t give a shit about buses, not helped by her MPs actively laughing at the fact Corbyn is raising the issue”

Phil Tonks (@PhilTonks2), public transport commentator
“I haven’t seen PMQs yet, but interesting that Corbyn has gone with buses for all 6 of his questions. I hope it gets more people thinking about this mode of transport”

Gareth Dennis (@GarethDennis), Railway Engineer
“People are barking up the wrong tree with the whole “Bus or Brexit” thing… @theresa_may would have said nothing of any value in response to a Brexit question from @jeremycorbyn. On the other hand, with bus provision having been wrecked UK-wide she was ripe for skewering”

 

Further coverage appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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