SCC Bus Advisory Board
Friday, 2nd December, 2022 10.00 am
- Meeting of Bus Advisory Board, Friday 2nd December 2022 10.00 am (Item 67.)
To receive the update.
John Perrett, Service Manager-Transport Commissioning, stated that the details of this trial are still unclear; there has been no direct contact with the DfT, as the DfT has been dealing directly with operators. Participation in the trial is voluntary, including both commercial and tendered services; as he understands it, the scheme is only open to those operators who claim the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) or the old fuel duty rebate. This means that some operators, particularly those who only operate tendered services or those who do little commercial mileage, have not been invited to take part, meaning participation will be patchy. Operators have been asked by the DfT to provide considerable data up front for the DfT to analyse and work out payments, which has made matters difficult, as there is only a fixed amount of funding available from the DfT and the amount to be received by each operator will only be known by 12 December. However, the operators then have to confirm by 16 December if they want to participate, and then the publicity from central government begins the next day on 17 December.
One thing that they have been asked to ensure is that there are no penalties on the £2 fare in relation to concessionary fares and that we don’t make adjustments to payments to operators on concessionary fares; however, this won’t apply to Somerset, because we have been paying fixed rates based on the 2019-20 level of concessionary fares, and that will continue until at least 31 March. In any case, by 16 December there will be confirmation of which operators are participating, and a list will be published week commencing 19 December.
The Chair thanked John Perrett for his update, noting that this was another opportunity to recover patronage after the Covid pandemic, and he invited comments from the Board. Tony Reese asked what SCC and the Somerset Bus Partnership could do to help publicise this, as it will need to be publicised widely once it starts; John Perrett replied that there would be press coverage and communications once the list of operators is known. He said that Ridler’s Coaches in Minehead could be ruled out, because they are a small operator that does not have the capacity to meet the demands of the data requirement from the DfT.
David Redgewell expressed his concern that there is far less information available in the South West than in the Midlands, while in the North, the Secretary of State for Transport had gone to Manchester with the new buses Minister to meet the authorities to discuss this £2 fare issue. He noted that there are two transport boards, the Peninsula and the Western Gateway, and these transport boards could possibly be a vehicle for conversations between the Chair and DfT officials about a regional approach to the matter. He opined that it is not right that the DfT is bringing schemes into the South West without speaking to statutory transport authorities, who are the ones who have to administer those schemes and protect public money. He noted that there is a Peninsula board meeting next week and also one for Gateway; this topic should be on the agenda of those meetings, as passengers will be confused and concerned if the DfT talks about the issue publicly without them having the details first about why they are paying different fares on different buses. The Chair confirmed that he would be happy to raise it at the boards and noted that they had used the same body to invite Wendy Morton some months ago when she was the Rail Minister; so perhaps these boards could be used to get the Secretary of State or the Rail Minister here to speak to us, particularly regarding how it will affect more rural areas as opposed to urban areas in the north.
Phil Groocock, Bus Network Manager at Wiltshire Council, addressed the situation of operators who are not registered for BSOG grants, stating that he had raised this issue personally when the DfT did their briefing a few weeks ago, and the DfT had to admit that they had forgotten to incorporate these operators. The problem mainly affects those working on behalf of Councils who are not allowed to claim BSOG for services subsidised by the Council; others principally affected are rural operators with small staff numbers who cannot cope with the immense bureaucracy required to claim. He said that the DfT is attempting to find ways to make these operators eligible to participate. Another problem is that it has been left to operators to decide whether they will participate, but it should be Councils to decide when it’s a subsidised service. Many of the operators don’t have the time and manpower to provide the huge amount of data requested by the DfT so they have declined to participate.
The Chair stated that the organisation of this trial could have been better, but it is a good opportunity, and he will try to help push it forward and make it as widely available as possible.