Can you level up while scaling back? Better public transport is at the heart of the government’s ‘levelling up’ plans, but networks face huge cuts

Boris Johnson visited Blackpool Transport last week to publicise the levelling up white paper

The government’s plans to spread opportunity and prosperity to left-behind communities include “local public transport systems becoming much closer to London standards” by 2030.

But this ambition could be fatally undermined by the immediate threat faced by public transport operators due to a reduced post-Covid passenger base and the loss of emergency funding support.

Prime minister Boris Johnson and levelling up secretary Michael Gove visited bus and tram operator Blackpool Transport to publicise the launch of the government’s levelling up white paper, reflecting the importance of public transport to this mission.

However, with Bus Recovery Grant funding in England due to end on April 5, bus operators are warning that their networks could be significantly reduced if the government does not act quickly. Train operators are also expected to cut services in response to pressure to reduce funding.

According to the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the bus industry faces a £350m “funding gap” next year at a time when operators are already experiencing higher costs, especially in staffing.

The consequences could be that bus operators are forced to reduce services by about 30%

“The consequences could be that bus operators are forced to reduce services by about 30%,” CPT chief executive Graham Vidler told a House of Lords committee hearing this week. “The decisions that government makes in the coming weeks are really critical.”

Phil Southall, managing director of Oxford Bus Company, warned: “A significant reduction in routes and timetables risks harm to our local economic recovery, environment, public health and social inclusion … There is a lot of talk about levelling up and we need real action on it and fast from government.”

Norman Baker: Is this ‘levelling up’, or falling flat?

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