Suffolk to find out amount of funding it will receive as part of the Bus Back Better scheme next month
Suffolk is set to find out next month whether funding for ambitious bus improvement plans will be approved – but a Government letter has cast doubt over how much cash might be forthcoming.
The £3 billion Bus Back Better scheme encouraged transport authorities across England to submit Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) with a financial ask, with Suffolk submitting a case for £77 million.
That is to bankroll a raft of improvements across services, which includes ambitions for more rural services, easier ticketing options and daily price caps, bus decarbonisation measures and tap on and off travel.
Suffolk had originally planned a £50m Enhanced Partnership bid – where providers and the local authority work together to plan services – but upped it to £77m over three years.
However, a letter sent by the Department for Transport to local authority transport directors said that the bidding pot would be £1.4bn.
The DfT denied that funding had been cut, but in the letter admitted that “prioritisation is inevitable, given the scale of the ambition across the country greatly exceeds this amount”.
Suffolk County Council said it was waiting to find out if its bid has been successful, and had not been required to prioritise measures as that would be the work of a dedicated board to be established if the bid is successful.
A council spokesperson said: “The DfT have not made any announcements yet relating to which councils have been successful in the bidding round, therefore no-one knows who will receive Bus Back Better funding and how much.
“We are told a funding announcement is due at some point in February and that this will be indicative, with a confirmed amount at some point after that, probably to tie in with updates on the Enhanced Partnership, which will bring together the council, local bus operators and other stakeholders to provide a high quality accessible and integrated public transport network.”
A DfT spokesperson said that some of the £3bn is being invested nationally and not directly into local authorities.
“It is incorrect to claim that funding has been cut from our original ambition,” they said.
“Over this Parliament, the Government has committed to making a step change investment of over £3bn into bus services.
“This includes £1.2bn in dedicated new funding to deliver improvements in fares, services and infrastructure, and a further £355m of new funding for zero emission buses.”
But opposition Green councillors in Suffolk said if reports of less funding were true it would leave some of the county’s villages, which already struggle for services, cut-off.
Group spokesman for transport Keith Welham said: “The Suffolk Bus Service Improvement Plan bid was for funding to bring back essential services to our rural areas and improve services on key routes.
“A lot of time was spent by officers, members and stakeholders to put together a realistic bid.
“If reports that the government is cutting this vital funding are true, their efforts were wasted; many of our rural areas will continue to have no service at all and we’re unlikely to get the electric buses we were expecting to be part of the package.”
To find out more about Suffolk’s bid visit the website here: https://www.suffolkonboard.com/buses/suffolk-enhanced-partnership/