Tagged: North East Combined Authority

Spending on buses goes up in urban areas but down in rural parts of North East

Spending on buses is going up in urban areas while it dips in rural parts of the North East, figures reveal.

Data released by the Campaign for Better Transport showed spending on subsidised bus services has risen by 14.3% since 2010 in Tyne and Wear.

Meanwhile, in County Durham and Northumberland councils are spending 29.8% and 15.3% less, respectively.

Martin Abrams, from CBT, said elderly and disabled people are those that suffer.

He said:

“Every single local authority is in a difficult financial position.

“This report isn’t about beating up local authorities – we want to highlight the fact that councils are really, really suffering from the funding cuts imposed on them by central government – but some councils are finding ways of funding services.

“We are concerned for elderly people in rural areas as this will have an impact on them, especially.

“A lot of elderly people take the bus to the shops and they meet their mates. If you take that away then people will be left in isolation and it will have an impact on the social fabric of the country.

“It is the big rural counties rather than urban areas that are making big cuts and it is very worrying.”

 

 Councillor Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and transport lead on the North East Combined Authority, said Nexus, which manages transport in the Tyne and Wear area, is dipping into reserves to avoid the funding cuts seen in other areas.

The combined authority has voted to operate a Quality Contract Scheme (CQS) which would see councils take control of fares and services.

He said:

“About 10% of local bus services in Tyne and Wear are paid for by local authorities through Nexus, and that includes all our school buses and special routes for early-morning shiftworkers, as well as many journeys in the evening and at weekends.

“Tyne and Wear has been able to avoid the severe cuts to local bus routes seen in many parts of the country thanks to good planning by local councils and Nexus up to now, but the fact is Nexus is spending the last of its financial reserves to keep these vital services on the road.

“This cannot go on much longer and that is why the North East Combined Authority is pushing ahead with a planned Quality Contracts Scheme, in which some of the large profits made by bus companies in the region are re-invested to protect and improve all local services.

“This will not only protect routes but mean lower fares for passengers, a universal smart ticket like Oyster in London and savings for the local taxpayer.

“Without a Quality Contracts Scheme local people should be under no illusion that local buses face cuts due to the enormous pressure on council spending.”

Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said cutting the bus budget in County Durham had been unavoidable in the backdrop of severe cuts to local authorities.

He said following a consultation in 2011 funding for evening and weekend services had been scaled back to protect those operated during the day.

He added further cuts would make it harder to protect services.

Councils in other parts of the region, such as Darlington and Stockon, have cut funding for subsidised bus routes altogether.

He said:

“There has not been much of a reduction over the last few years, however, as with everything else, given the cuts that are being made by George Osborne that will become more and more difficult.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Jan 2015

North East bus operators to introduce Oyster-style smart ticketing

North East bus passengers will soon be able to use Oyster-style tickets, travel operators have announced.

Britain’s biggest bus operators – including Newcastle-headquartered Go Ahead and Sunderland-based Arriva – have announced plans to launch London-style smart ticketing across England’s largest city regions.

The pledge by Stagecoach, First, Arriva, Go Ahead and National Express aims to deliver multi-operator smart ticketing to millions of bus customers across England next year.

Greater Manchester will be an early adopter of what is described as a “transformational initiative”, helping support the area’s wider growth plans.

The smart tickets will then be rolled out across Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire along with the city regions of Nottingham, Leicester and Bristol.

The bus providers have spent several months finalising their plans and this work has included liaising with IT suppliers and the Department for Transport.

The announcement comes two weeks after North East councils took a step towards seizing control of the bus services, in a major shake-up of public transport – a move bitterly opposed by the bus companies.

Members of the North East Combined Authority voted unanimously for the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for the Tyne and Wear area.

If passed by an independent review board the proposals will signal a new era of London-style bus services across the region, in which travellers carry a pass similar to the capital’s Oyster card and councils decide on fares and when and how often services run.The bus companies said their own plans represent a multi-million pound investment in what is the biggest smart ticketing project in the UK’s history.

The technology will allow smaller bus operators to be included and provide a platform to extend the system to other modes, such as trams and trains.

In a joint statement, Stagecoach Group chief executive Martin Griffiths, First Group chief executive Tim O’Toole, Go Ahead chief executive David Brown, Arriva chief executive David Martin and National Express chief executive Dean Finch said:

“Millions of people in our biggest city regions will benefit from this transformational initiative in London-style smart ticketing. It will deliver an even bigger programme and wider benefit than the capital’s Oyster system.

“Bus operators share the aspirations of our city regions to become growing economic powerhouses and we know high quality public transport is an important part of making that happen.”

Bus operators also urged central and local Government to work with them to improve bus services across the country.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  04 Nov 2014

North East must accept Metro Mayor to get new powers says Osborne

The region must accept a single directly-elected mayor ruling from Durham to Scotland in order to grab dramatic new powers, George Osborne said yesterday.

The Chancellor signed a landmark devolution deal with Greater Manchester – covering transport, health, housing and the police – in return for a ‘metro mayor’, to run its ten authorities.

And he immediately warned that any city-region hoping for similar control over its own destiny must also accept a cross-border ‘Boris Johnson-style’ leader.

That list includes the new the North East Combined Authority, which brings together County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

The area is believed to be third on Mr Osborne’s list for agreeing devolution deals – after Manchester and West Yorkshire – with an announcement as early as next month.

But, last night, Simon Henig, Durham’s leader and the chairman of the combined authority, criticised Mr Osborne’ attempt to tie the region’s hands.

And he pointed out voters in Newcastle and eight other English cities had rejected mayors – for city boundaries only – in referendums just two-and-a-half years ago.

Councillor Henig said:

“I strongly believe it is now the time for powers and control over spending to be devolved out of Whitehall throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just to Manchester.

“However, my own view is that devolution should not be made conditional on accepting an elected mayor, which was rejected by the public in referendums in several major cities in 2012.”

The Chancellor’s move is a dramatic U-turn, because the Conservatives had rejected calls for metro mayors which, many argued, could be handed a powerful portfolio.

Yesterday, Mr Osborne said:
I hope that Manchester will be the first of many big cities to take advantage of greater devolution of powers.

“Any other city that wants to receive more powers and move to a new model of governance, with an elected mayor, should bring forward their proposals.”

The Manchester package includes:

* Responsibility for re-regulated bus services and integrated ‘smart ticketing’ across all local modes of transport.

* An enhanced ‘earn back’ deal – keeping £1m a year from economic growth, to fund an extension to the Metrolink tram network.

* Police powers – with the abolition of the elected police and crime commissioner (PCC).

* Control of a £300 million ‘housing investment fund’.

* Power over business support services – including manufacturing advice and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) export advice.

* Power to develop a plan to integrate health and social care.

A Government source said:

Who do the voters sack if something goes wrong? City-region mayors answer that.

“So we can obviously go further for cities that are able to step up to the accountability challenge.”

Source – Northern Echo,  04 Nov 2014

Quality Contract Scheme: What will changes to the bus system in Tyne and Wear mean for you?

The North East Combined Authority has voted for a plan which could give councils power over when and how often bus services run in Tyne and Wear

What is a QCS?

A Quality Contract Scheme is a legal power over bus services by a council. In this case, the North East Combined Authority will set ticket prices, routes and timetables across Tyne and Wear and on some routes in and out of County Durham and Northumberland.

NECA will also decide what types of buses are used. Nexus, the public body which devised this scheme and currently manages the Tyne and Wear Metro, will collect fares and pay bus companies to provide bus services through contracts. This is a big change to the present market, where buses companies decide on prices and routes.

What is wrong with the current system?

NECA believes a QCS will be better than leaving things as they are. It argues people are put off using buses because fares have gone up on average 3% more than inflation for a decade.

Today, councils pay bus operators to provide less-used bus services, and subsidise some fares – as well as funding the free bus pass for older and disabled people.

This adds up to £56m-a-year in Tyne and Wear, money is running short and the cost of the free bus pass – which councils must pay by law – is growing, meaning that the other bus services councils pay for will have to be withdrawn.

So, everyone agrees it is great?

Not exactly. The bus companies – mostly Stagecoach, Arriva and Go-Ahead – strongly disagree with the move and recommended a voluntary system that gives them more freedom. They say a QCS a “huge gamble” that could lead to higher fares, worse services and higher tax bills in the long run.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, also has “serious concerns”. He said profitable services in urban Tyne and Wear subsidise the rural bus network in Northumberland and County Durham. He is worried that subsidy would dry up under the new QCS.

Will it mean services cost more or less?

Nexus says fares are likely to go down. Future fare rises will be limited to inflation levels and only changed once a year.

New cheap fares for people aged 16 to 18 will be the same price as today’s fares for children.

There will be discounts for students and a new deal for older and disabled people who want to travel before 9:30am.

Nexus says around four in five adult passengers will see prices stay the same or go down when the new QCS fare zones begin.

Won’t this cost councils lots of money, then?

The idea is it will actually save councils money. Bus companies now make about £20m profit in the region every year, but Nexus estimates 80% of that money leaves the region. NECA says more of this profit from fares will be re-invested locally and this in turn will protect services now funded by councils that might otherwise be lost.

How would an Oyster card-style system work here?

In London, the one Oyster card allows you to travel on any bus, any train, any tube or any ferry. They can use Oyster as a season ticket or they can use Oyster to pay for single journeys.

The Tyne and Wear version will be called the Smartcard. Having one will get you on any bus, any Metro, the ferry or local train.

If you travel paying for single journeys and reach the daily ticket price, what you pay is capped – so you will always get the best deal, without needing to plan your day in advance. The technology for the Smartcard is in place already.

What if I am travelling in or out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham or Northumberland?

Most bus routes in and out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham, and some of those from Northumberland, are included in the plan for the whole route. That means the Smart tickets, the QCS network and lower prices will be available when you travel into Tyne and Wear.

Will there be fewer buses and will buses go the same routes?

Routes will be the same as now on the first day of a QCS, Nexus says. The difference is people can suggest improvements through new Bus Boards in each area.

Council leaders want to protect services and begin to grow them. They hope it will ultimately mean cheaper fares and bus and rail networks that work together better.

If the QCS does not happen, Nexus and NECA say cuts are inevitable, particularly to young people’s fares, school buses and evening services now paid for by local councils.

How will the process work if QCS is passed?

It will be April 2017 before a QCS starts – council leaders will make a final decision next year after an independent panel has reviewed the 900-page scheme agreed by NECA this week. If it goes ahead it will take Nexus two years to let contracts and gear up for change, with lots of information and engagement with customers on fare changes, smart cards and other benefits.

What happens to the bus companies and their staff?

About 3,000 people now work on bus services in Tyne and Wear, which in future will be included in the Nexus contracts.

Staff will work on the same routes and their jobs, wages and pensions will be protected by law – plus Nexus has said it will give further protections to staff – even if they have to change the bus company they work for. The scheme is supported by the Unite union.

What will happen if bus companies take legal action in the meantime?

Bus companies are worried they will lose business to rival bidders. They have threatened legal action against NECA and Nexus. Both public bodies insist they are using the law properly, however.

Nexus says QCS is legal and based on the best available facts and figures. It has also said all possible steps will be taken to make sure legal action doesn’t slow down its plan for a QCS.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Oct 2014

North East Councils one step closer to taking control of bus services in transport shake-up

Control over bus services looks set to be placed in the hands of councils in the biggest shake-up of public transport for a generation.

Members of the North East Combined Authority have voted unanimously for the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for the Tyne and Wear area.

The proposals – if passed by an independent review board – will signal a new era of London-style bus services where passengers carry a pass similar to the capital’s Oyster card and councils decide on fares and when/how often services run.

Tyne and Wear would also stand alone outside London operating a QCS system in the biggest change since buses were de-regulated in the 1980s.

North East bus companies who bitterly opposed the plans – which will see them compete for contracts say they will continue to fight.

Councillor Nick Forbes, regional transport lead for NECA, said:

We realise that the bus companies will find this decision disappointing. But leaders took their decision balancing the wider public interest and concluded that the voluntary arrangements proposed by the bus companies could simply not deliver our ambitions for better bus services.”

The proposals, put together by Nexus, came about after bus fares in the region rose by around 3% above RPI inflation each year since 1995.

> Not to mention all the routes the private companies, especially Stagecoach, axed. Paying more for less – it’s the British way.

Vicki Gilbert, chairwoman of Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group, welcomed the decision and said:

“Only a QCS will introduce any sort of democratic control over bus services, and allow decisions about services and fares to be made in the interests of all of the public as opposed to the interests of the bus operators.

“Only a QCS will place a limit on the near monopoly profits enjoyed by the bus operators. Only by making the bus operators compete for contracts will the cost of running buses come down to a level that we can afford.”

Kevin Carr, Chair of the North East Bus Operators’ Association (NEBOA), said:

We are very disappointed, but not surprised, at the decision to press on with the contract scheme.

“Nexus has convinced the leaders to take a huge gamble, needing an £80m contingency fund on top of £51m in guaranteed funding every year. It’s not the best way of securing vital bus services for communities in Tyne and Wear.

 “The latest Nexus proposals don’t offer a single extra bus or any expansion of the bus network. Bus passengers in Tyne and Wear deserve better than this scheme, which will lead to higher fares, worse bus services and higher council tax bills.”

Mr Carr added NEBOA would continue to oppose the plans at the review stage.

He said:

“Today’s decision is not final. We expect a far more rigorous examination of the bus contracts proposals by the independent review board.

“The board has a duty to determine whether these plans meet key legal, economic and value for money tests.

“We do not believe these tests have been met and we will make robust arguments to the review board to demonstrate this. Unless all of the tests have been met, the bus contracts scheme as it stands cannot be implemented.”

Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, however, said the bus companies must accept the decision.

She said: “The bus operators should now respect this democratic decision and work to support passengers.”

Source – Newcastle Journal,  22 Oct 2014

Buses are better in council hands, North East MPs tell combined authority

Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.

Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.

They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.

However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.

They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.

Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:

“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.

“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”

She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.

Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:

“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.

“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”

He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.

Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.

The letter has been signed by the following MPs

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).

The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  21 Oct 2014

New North East super council is given the green light

A new super council will be formed on April 1, allowing the North East to compete for millions of pounds in Government funding.

After months of internal rows and territorial battles, the North East’s seven council leaders have secured Government backing to form a Combined Authority.

The move means, for example, that decisions over major transport and jobs investment in Northumberland or Newcastle must be made only after the views of the other council leaders have been taken into account.

There will be no changes to local councils, with voters still electing their local councillor and the same group collecting bins and looking after those in care.

> But we won’t get to vote in matters directly involving this super council ?

But behind the scenes the North East Combined Authority will be seen as the lead voice for the region in Whitehall.

The seven leaders, and their chief executives, will share decision making over skills, transport and investment, have the chance to secure control over any devolved Government budgets and a say in how the region bids for the £2bn Government Growth Fund.

> And no doubt they’ll also share an extra wad in their pay packets.

Cities minister Mr Clark has told MPs he thinks it is “a huge advance in the North East” and called for council leaders, MPs and other jobs groups to come together to formally discuss with him the next steps for the region.

> And will we – those most affected by any decisions – have any input ?

Former regional minister Nick Brown recently secured a series of regular meetings with the cities minister amid concerns the region’s case was not being heard in parliament.

Last night he told The Journal: “If we want access to the money we have to comply with the Government’s preferred structures, and it is very important that members of parliament are involved and can represent their constituents.”

The combined authority sees Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council and Sunderland City Council form a legally binding structure with the power to borrow cash and the responsibility to share risk.

Simon Henig, the Durham council leader set to chair the combined authority, said: “Working together is the best way to promote jobs and growth and to secure devolution of funding, powers and responsibilities from Government.

“We share ambitious plans for the future of our area and we are determined to work together to deliver them.

“We are therefore delighted to receive today’s news from Cabinet Office and look forward to the necessary formalities being progressed so that we can launch on April 1 this year. This is an important and exciting moment in our history and we are ready now to deliver on our ambitious plans.”

Hopes of forming a combined authority had appeared slim earlier this year when  Sunderland Council had halted the process amid concerns that Newcastle would hold too much influence.

Ministers, civil servants and council officials put pressure on Sunderland to drop its objections, but it was only once leader Paul Watson secured a stronger negotiating hand on the leaders’ board that it could go ahead.

There were then further delays when Sunderland decided to hold out for a multi-million pound investment package from the Government for Wearside before going ahead.

This Sunderland City Deal, set to see some £50m spent on a new business park based around Nissan, is now in the final stage of negotiations.

> So it’s all decided, signed, sealed and delivered. You had no input, it doesn’t appear you’ll ever get the chance for meaningful input… but then, this is  all about the really important people, like councillors and businessmen.  Business as usual, in fact.

Source – Newcastle Journal,  06 March 2014