Bus franchising 'not a magic bullet' says Barnsley Council leader

The leader of Barnsley Council says bus franchising is ‘not a magic bullet’, and says the council will be ‘realistic’ with the financial implications.

Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 1:39 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 3:11 pm

Speaking during today’s (February 23) cabinet meeting, Sir Steve Houghton CBE, leader of Barnsley Council welcomed looking into the viability of bus franchising, but warned ‘this is not a quick fix’.

The cost of bus franchising in South Yorkshire is estimated at around £5m, according to a report to cabinet.

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Sir Steve Houghton CBE, leader of Barnsley Council welcomed looking into the viability of bus franchising, but warned “this is not a quick fix”.

A report to the SYMCA states that if the board agreed to begin a formal assessment of a proposed franchising scheme, the £5m cost will need to be ‘underwritten from reserves’.

Campaigners have called for buses across South Yorkshire to be franchised, so decisions about routes, timetables, and prices are ‘made in the interests of the public, not shareholders’.

Although councils have not been asked for cash to set the scheme into motion, the cabinet report that the ‘possibility of a request for funding support from the council is not entirely ruled out at this stage’.

Sir Steve Houghton told the meeting: “The government some time ago, recommended that combined authorities, transport authorities, in order to try and improve bus services, should go down… the bus partnership route or bus franchising analysis to see if they can provide opportunities to improve bus services.

“In South Yorkshire, we’ve already started down the bus partnership route. But unfortunately our bid to government to improve buses through that route, which was some £56m – and that bid was turned down.

“That does not mean to say we won’t continue down the partnership route and do everything we can to work constructively with the bus operators to try and improve the quality of buses.

“We also feel it’s right to do a more detailed analysis of franchising, particularly in relation to costs.

“the timetable on franchising could be anything from five to 10 years, depending on whether the operators cooperate.

“In Greater Manchester they’re already bogged down in the courts on this because the operators are challenging them through the legal system.

“This is not a quick fix, no matter which way this goes.

“Just the process itself is likely cost around £5 million. You then get into a wider franchise – the implications for the operators and the implications for the Combined Authority.

“What we don’t have at the moment is the detail of that cost, which is why we are recommending we do a piece of work to get a much more detailed understanding of what what those additional costs may be.

“Having done all those things, that still doesn’t get you an extra bus on the road, nor a penny off the fares It just moves the system from one method of operation to another.

“I would prefer to have public transport as a public thing. But we have to be realistic about the financial implications…. not just with the Combined Authority but to the council itself and its services and taxpayers.

“I am totally opposed to introducing new taxes on the people of South Yorkshire.

“My worry is that the public are being sold this as a magic bullet .

“It is not. It’s a potential solution, subject to timelines, legal challenges, costs and a whole range of other things.”