‘Our buses are in crisis’ – All the key points from South Yorkshire council leaders as politicians agree to explore bus franchising

Political leaders in South Yorkshire have agreed to explore the feasibility of bus franchising for the region as Mayor Dan Jarvis said the network was ‘in crisis’.

By George Torr, Local Democracy Reporter
Monday, 7th March 2022, 3:41 pm

Here are all the key points and comments made by South Yorkshire council leaders on exploring a future bus franchise model which would bring more control back into the hands of the public.

Leader of Sheffield Council, Terry Fox

“Public transport is a crucial piece within our city’s vision and our plan to get to net zero by 2030.

(From top left) Terry Fox, leader of Sheffield Council, Mayor Ros Jones of Doncaster, Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council and Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council. The leaders along with South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis agreed to explore the feasibility of a bus franchsing model.

“But what can’t happen is being held back and for the continuation of dilution of services around the city. If we are to get to that journey, we’ve got to take people with us and get people to where they want to go.

“We can’t be dominated by bus companies telling people where they can and can’t go.

“I know this proposal doesn’t give us control straight away and this isn’t a silver bullet but a big first step.

“It seems to be actually what everybody is asking and it gives us that kind of ammunition and evidence that we’ve got going forward. I know it’s a big step and a big time commitment but we have to take Sheffield forward to move us on.

South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis

“The one caveat is the expectation of people – I think we just have to be wary of what this is going to deliver for us but we need to get on with it in Sheffield, public transport certainly the buses are on life support at the moment because of Covid-19.”

Leader of Barnsley Council, Sir Steve Houghton

“What we’ve seen over the last 20 years with deregulation has not worked and there were problems with the services prior to the pandemic.

“I do think we are right to continue to be in a partnership with the operators to look to build a relationship through a partnership because whatever we do there is no quick fix. We need to continue to keep up that relationship because we need them.

Sheffield Council leader Terry Fox

“Nor do I believe that even with franchising there is necessarily a solution to all our problems – the rail network is franchised and the East Coast Mainline is back in public ownership because franchising didn’t work.

“Be careful what you wish for because it might not produce the answer that you want. But I do believe we are right to take it to the next stage.

“This is not a quick fix – if this goes extremely well and proves to be affordable then you are looking at five to six years before you can bring anything like this into place so the operators being important still holds true.

“If it doesn’t go smoothly and we’ve seen in Greater Manchester it’s being mired in legal action from the operators, it could even be a decade.

Doncaster mayor Ros Jones

“There is a view from residents that changing it over suddenly solves all our problems – it will take time.

“People look at the system in London but it is funded seven times more per head than South Yorkshire. As for Manchester, there was provision in their devolution deal for public transport change and we do not have that.

“Greater Manchester also has a mayoral tax that can be used for that and I am not in favour of that in South Yorkshire so they have a fiscal advantage there.

“Franchising is a method of increasing our control of what happens but it is not a return to publicly owned public transport.

“My view is this arrangement is going to be very difficult without central government support. What this review does is provide the evidence to argue for that support further down the line.

“We are willing to support this but we are aware of the huge financial risks it contains – if this ends up being too expensive and we are unable to find it then we will withdraw from that.

Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council

“From a Barnsley perspective, we don’t believe this should be funded in part or in full by new taxes on the people in South Yorkshire – the tax level is the highest it’s been in the UK for 50 years.”

Leader of Rotherham Council, Chris Read

“A deregulated bus network has made as much sense in practice as anybody studying GCSE economics- anyone would have told you it is a silly market to run.

“Given the opportunity at how we can regulate that way to deliver efficiencies, maintain standards and correct market failures, we should be able to do that.

“This is a costly process to investigate and I’m glad we’ve been able to put some money together for this to happen.

“The second challenge is around the day to day cost of bus prices and where the squeeze on local authority budgets for the last few years now has made it increasingly difficult and we weren’t in a great place to start off with even with regulation in place

“Then there’s a challenge on transport investment and one of the issues that people often raise in relation to frustrations with buses is about buses not turning up on time and not being a reliable service.

“You can run regulated buses but that doesn’t mean that cars get out of the way quicker or that traffic lights work better.

Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones

“This has the support of the full council to come here and continue with the process of assessing the franchising scheme.

“But with all the caveats that Steve has put out there, Doncaster will also be mirroring those concerns because we can no longer keep levying on our council tax payers and funding is going to be the crucial factor to do this and actually deliver a better service.

“This shouldn’t be about repeating what we’ve done for our residents and our businesses.

“I would like to echo the caveats Steve has set out; they’re the same for Doncaster. I’m sure my other two colleagues would do that as well but they will speak for themselves.”

Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council