Bus franchising sparks row

POLITICAL leaders have blamed each other for a lack of progress on investigating bus franchising – taking the power to set bus timetables and routes back under public control.

The Reclaim Our Buses campaign is calling for the West of England Combined Authority to formally explore how bus franchising could work in the region.

But Metro Mayor Dan Norris has accused South Gloucestershire Council of being the main obstacle blocking bus franchising.

Mr Norris said that, unlike the nine other combined authorities in England, WECA lacked the power to raise its own income through charging a precept on council tax bills, forcing it to rely on receiving government funding with strict rules.

At a West of England Combined Authority scrutiny meeting on March 13 Mr Norris said: “Unless we get precepting sorted, then there won’t be any franchising.

“And at the moment, South Gloucestershire Council doesn’t want franchising and they don’t want precepting. Given I’ve got a voting system which requires unanimous voting, that’s quite an obstacle.”

Speaking after the meeting, South Gloucestershire leader Toby Savage accused Mr Norris of indulging in the “politicking”, adding: “The WECA mayor has not wanted to facilitate a regional discussion about bus franchising.

“Were he to do so — and contrary to what has been stated — South Gloucestershire Council would be supportive of bus franchising being properly investigated, so we can understand how best to resolve the challenges facing our bus network.”

Bus franchising has been in place in London for decades through Transport for London, and will be launched in Greater Manchester later this year.

Matthew Topham of Reclaim Our Buses campaign said Mr Norris couldn’t know whether precepting would be needed until an investigation has been carried out, and said franchising might not require WECA to take on a financial risk.

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service