Devon County Council’s Proposed Use of New Funding for Supported Bus Services 2020/2021
Subject to the Department for Transport (DfT) accepting our spending plans, Devon County Council has been allocated additional funding towards supporting improvements to local bus services.
DfT requires authorities to submit detailed plans as to how they propose to use the funding. The plans must indicate, for example, how many services are being started anew, or improved, how many lost services are being restored etc. On approval of the plans, DfT will then release the authority’s pre-determined allocation.
The funding will be provided as a single payment in 2020-21, and where possible DfT wants to see the funding used in that financial year, but they understand that there can be a need for financial support over more than one year to ensure a service level is maintained where it is not possible to kick-start an ongoing commercial operation. Local authorities are therefore allowed to spread this funding over a longer time period.
Devon has a strong record of bus service support and in particular for using external funding to kick-start new and improved services and we can be confident of using this new funding to good effect.
However, it has to be pointed out that public expectations are already exceeding the scope of the new funding. Our allocation is £985,778 and whilst this is a significant amount, it will not transform the whole bus network.
Our proposed approach is therefore to use the funding to strengthen or restore services which demonstrate the strongest likelihood of being sustainable, either commercially, or within ongoing support budgets and criteria. Short-term commercial viability is unlikely. If it were likely, those services would be operating already. The best and most realistic prospect is therefore to mostly build on existing services rather than start entirely new ones where the risk is greater. In support of this approach, the DfT guidance states that consideration should be given to how the funding can be used to benefit the most people most quickly, including extending the existing hours or frequencies of current services.
At the same time, a rural County such as Devon will reasonably expect the benefit to show a geographical spread and not be concentrated purely on the most viable urban and inter-urban routes. We believe the best way of addressing this is to ensure that the service proposals bring a consequential benefit for those rural areas along the route.
We propose to utilize the funding over a maximum period of two and a half years.
The draft list of services to be developed with the funding appears in the table. (Some of these items are still subject to the outcome of competitive tenders and price quotations.) The list has been developed in line with the following proposed Devon guidelines, which in turn have been designed to be consistent with government requirements and our own bus service support criteria.
4(i) Improvements to current supported services which perform well against current support criteria and where the improvement is also likely to perform well;
4(ii) Restoration of lost bus services, including consideration of those services or parts of service withdrawn or reduced in the budget-led cuts of September 2015. Possible restorations will be those where patronage was relatively good, or where a restoration is likely to attract good patronage with some future possibility of meeting the support criteria;
4(iii) Extensions to commercial services, or new services, where the bus operator sees a reasonable prospect of the extension becoming commercially viable at the end of the funding period, or sustainable within the support criteria;
4(iv) Account will be taken of:
– Consultation responses at the time of the County Council budget-led service reductions in September 2015;
– Responses from the March/April 2020 consultation on use of the new Government funding;
– Previous correspondence from Devon residents, district, town and parish councils, bus user groups and other contacts;
– Representations by County Councillors on behalf of their constituents;
– Correspondence from Devon MPs.
4(v) Consistent with the decision taken in 2015/2016, new or improved services will not be provided if they are primarily for travel by school pupils not statutorily entitled to school transport assistance from the County Council.
The support criteria referred to are the maximum subsidy per passenger limits which are consistently applied to Devon County Council-supported local bus services and which have been varied from time to time to reflect priorities within available budgets.