Boris Johnson’s ‘bus back better’ plan in tatters as Treasury halves funding | Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is facing growing backlash over his ‘leveling up’ scheme as documents leaked on Sunday reveal funding has been cut in half for his favorite transport policy – improving bus services in the most disadvantaged areas, including “red wall” seats.

The Prime Minister announced last year that £3billion would be spent on ‘new funding to level buses across England to London standards’ as part of the government’s ‘bus back better’ strategy. He said: ‘I love buses and I’ve never really understood why so few governments before mine have felt the same’, adding that ‘better buses will be one of our main upgrade acts. level”.

But a letter sent to the directors of the Local Transport Authority by the Department for Transport on January 11 – and obtained by the Observer – makes it clear that the budget for bus ‘transformation’ – a pot from which local regions can bid for funds – is now cut to just £1.4billion for the next three years.

The letter says this will mean tough choices for areas that expected more, adding that “prioritization is inevitable, given that the scale of ambition across the country far outweighs the amount.”

The budget cuts have caused consternation behind the red wall and are embarrassing for the government, especially as a white paper on leveling up is due to be published by Michael Gove – the minister responsible for the vast equalization campaign living standards across the country – within a fortnight.

The white paper has already been delayed, in part due to pressure from the Treasury to cut costs. In his spending review last fall, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, set the stage for a cut in spending on buses, but local transport leaders had always hoped the Prime Minister would keep his word of around 3 billion pounds for additional investment.

Tracy Brabin, mayor of West Yorkshire, said the decision was a “huge blow” for her region. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Figures compiled by the office of ghost bus minister Sam Tarry show that the amount of funding bids submitted by 53 of 79 local transport authorities from the additional funding pot is already over £7billion. This suggests the total is set to exceed £9bn, against an available total of £1.4bn.

Local transport authorities and bus operators are already facing huge financial uncertainty due to falling passenger numbers and fare revenues during the Omicron push, and a lack of clarity from the government as to whether additional Covid-related funding will continue.

Tarry said last night: ‘The Conservatives have promised ‘transformational’ investments in bus services. But millions of passengers are seeing a controlled decline. They have considerably reduced the ambitions of local authorities. With bus services being cut nationwide, it’s proof that this government just won’t and can’t meet the needs of the people who need it most.

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said the decision to cut funding for improved bus services by more than 50% was a blow. After losing a long-promised rail investment – with the scrapping of HS2 and the reduction of Northern Powerhouse Rail – we in the north of England were counting on this funding, so that we could provide the green, reliable and affordable to our people deserve.”

Urban Transport Group Director, representing transport authorities in larger urban areas, Jonathan Bray, said: ‘We welcome any additional funding for buses as they are used by communities that need them. need less and need leveling the most. at the top. However, it is disappointing that the Treasury has significantly reduced the amount initially pledged.

Transport expert Stephen Joseph, a visiting professor at the University of Hertfordshire’s Smart Mobility Unit, said: ‘On buses the Treasury does not countersign the checks that No 10 writes. In fact, the prospect appears to be cuts, including in the red wall areas, rather than the expansion that Boris Johnson has promised.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: ‘It is incorrect to claim that funding has been reduced from our original ambition. During this legislature, the government has pledged to invest over £3 billion in bus services.

“This includes £1.2bn of dedicated new funding to improve fares, services and infrastructure, and a further £355m of new funding for zero-emission buses.”

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