A paper, published by cities minister Greg Clark last week, contains a proposal pointing at devolving the allocation of Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) funding to local authorities.
The paper aims to help cities “exercise more independence” and “take their economic destiny into their own hands” through a proposed menu of options up for discussion and negotiation. “In exchange for local leadership, central government is prepared to pass down unprecedented control over budgets and powers in areas such as transport, housing, skills and business support, states Clark in the foreword.
Under the heading “Raising the stakes – an illustrative menu of bold options”, the subsection “The power to drive critical infrastructure development” contains the general proposal: “Allow cities to take strategic transport decisions by devolving local transport major funding.” The more specific option states: “Develop with cities specific proposals for developing greater accountability to local communities for local bus services, in the context of wider BSOG reform.”
Launching the paper last Friday, Clark said: “Cities need to make a case for new powers – with a clear evidence base, and a strong economic rationale. They have to show how new flexibilities could benefit local people. They will have to demonstrate how they will manage budgets, and hold themselves accountable to residents.”
The devolution of BSOG has been strongly opposed by operators, for whom the 20% cut next April is bad enough. Go Ahead’s business development director, Martin Dean said in a previous CBW column (CBW1007): “It is not just that changing the way that BSOG is paid out could see £400m flow away from the bus industry – although the lack of ‘ring-fencing’ for buses is a key issue if devolution to local authorities did take place – but it is the way the money could be spent in future even if it stayed in the bus sector which is a concern.”