Subsidy is not the answer to rural decline, says minister

Additional subsidy is not the answer to the decline of rural bus services, England’s bus minister, Andrew Jones, told the UK Bus Summit in London in February, when he also appeared to rule out paying compensation for commercial operators whose rights to run services are lost through the introduction of route franchising.

Asked about funding of rural routes, some of which now survive with support from parish rather than county or unitary councils, Jones said: ‘We shouldn’t be having an industry which relies endlessly on public subsidy. We’re always going to see huge demand for public spending. You only have to look at how some of our public services are under intense pressure, such as the health service.

‘So an industry which requires a public subsidy is not an industry which has a healthy, robust, sustainable future. The right answer is more bums on seats.

‘More subsidy from the public purse is not the answer. A service needs more passengers to make it pay. The industry is not in structural decline if it delivers a quality product that people use.’

Pressed by Buses Inside Track columnist and former Brighton & Hove managing director Roger French on the fairness of a system that could see operators lose their businesses without compensation in a move from deregulated to franchised services, the minister appeared unsympathetic.

He said all sizes of operator would have a chance to compete to win the right to operate tendered services in such a change. ‘Compensation is not in the present legislation [being planned]. I do not anticipate a requirement to pay compensation.’