Campaigners call on South Yorkshire authorities to buy Powell's Bus as mayor asks for meeting with transport secretary
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HCT Group made a shock announcement on Friday, August 5, confirming that its Powell’s and CT Plus companies would close and services would cease three days’ later, on Monday, August 8.
The sudden closure has led to the loss of 260 jobs in South and West Yorkshire, and has affected 24 bus routes in South Yorkshire.
Campaigners from the Better Buses for South Yorkshire group subsequently sprung into action, and 525 county residents have emailed South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard and the region’s council leaders calling on them to buy Powell’s.
The move comes as Mayor Coppard confirmed ealier this week that he was looking into the practicalities of taking Powell’s into public ownership.
Matthew Topham, a campaigner at Better Buses for South Yorkshire, said: “For decades, we’ve been privatising the profits on South Yorkshire’s buses and nationalising the losses.”
“The network is in freefall. If the public is expected to stump up another five or ten million to slow the cuts, it’s time that we own at least some of the buses and run them on a not-for-profit basis for the benefits of our communities, not unaccountable shareholders.”
The emails sent by campaigners claim that ‘a publicly owned and run bus company could plug the gaps and provide a guaranteed minimum service level, no matter what the private bus companies decide to cut next’.
If Powell’s were to be brought under public ownership, it would join Pembrokeshire Council in being one of the first authorities in the UK to buy up a local transport company.
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And now, Mayor Coppard says he has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps MP to call for a meeting to discuss further action to help the crisis facing buses in the region.
The excerpts from the letter released by Mayor Coppard include: "At a time where there are unprecedented pressures on living costs, public transport is an even more important lifeline for South Yorkshire. That is all the more true for those most impacted by the current economic pressures. The uncertainty created by short-term, muddled thinking, makes it impossible for people to make meaningful decisions about their healthcare, work or academic future...
"I am aware that discussions are underway between your department, operators and transport authorities on extending the Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) funding for a further three months. Whilst I welcome any additional funding that will help support services, I find it incredible that this is being proposed at such a late stage...
"Far from working with metro mayors like me to deliver a frequent, efficient and affordable public transport system in places like South Yorkshire, there is seemingly a poverty of ambition at the heart of this government’s plans.”
Mayor Coppard says he has told Mr Shapps that in order to ‘move matters forward’ he needs:
- Devolution of any extension of BRG to the SYMCA (South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority) to ensure those funds are allocated against local priorities and not just used to support commercial priorities, or prop-up profit margins of operators.
- Any extension of funding applies equally to light rail - this is an important part of our local transport infrastructure facing similar challenges to bus services.
He added: “I am again asking you to give serious consideration to my previous request for meaningful, long-term support. Officials from DFT (Department for Transport) must engage with my team to develop proposals that deliver growth in passenger numbers and lead to a sustainable network, an ambition that I’m sure we both share.”
The email action to South Yorkshire authorities is hosted online by the campaign group We Own It at: https://weownit.org.uk/demand-a-public-bus-company