The National Bus Strategy - Bus Back Better

In March 2021, the government announced the new National Bus Strategy – Bus Back Better – with the overall aim of transforming local bus services and increasing bus patronage. Under this new strategy the expectation was that Local Transport Authorities would enter Enhanced Partnership Agreements with local bus operators across the Local Transport Authority, to develop and deliver improvements across local bus services and enhance the experience for passengers. Alternatively, where deemed appropriate, Local Transport Authorities can seek to pursue the ‘Franchising’ route but would be required to commit to an Enhanced Partnership in the meantime.

Somerset Council Executive agreed at its Cabinet meeting on 21 June 2021 to the proposal to proceed with the development of an Enhanced Partnership.

Statutory Notice of Intent to Prepare an Enhanced Partnership Plan and Schemes

Bus Service Improvement Plan

The next stage was to create a Bus Service Improvement Plan in partnership with local bus operators for submission to the Department for Transport by 31 October 2021.

Following stakeholder engagement and a public survey, which enabled us to identify the key themes and priorities for public transport provision, the Bus Service Improvement Plan was created which sets out proposals, all subject to additional government funding, that include decarbonising transport, improving frequency and coverage across the network, lowering fares, improving ticketing options, making information easier to understand and more accessible and improving facilities across the network.

Somerset Council Executive agreed the Bus Service Improvement Plan at its Cabinet meeting on 20 October 2021. Following the annual review in October 2022, the Bus Service Improvement Plan remains largely unamended, with a few minor tweaks to reflect the funding allocation. This approach was approved by Somerset Council’s Scrutiny Policy and Place Committee.

The full Bus Service Improvement Plan

In April 2022, the Department for Transport announced that only 31 of 79 Local Transport Authorities would receive any funding. Somerset was fortunate enough to be recognised in this process and had to re-submit Bus Service Improvement Plan proposals to meet the indicative funding allowance of approximately £11.9 million. The original proposals had to be scaled down to meet the rules set by the Department for Transport and to be achievable within the funds available. In August 2022, the Department for Transport confirmed that Somerset had been successfully allocated the indicative funding.

You can read a summary of the revised proposals.

Enhanced Partnership

An Enhanced Partnership, which includes a Plan and a Scheme, was created in March 2022 to provide a robust framework in which to deliver the Bus Service Improvement Plan in accordance with requirements set out by the Department for Transport and in line with the Transport Act 2000 and any subsequent amendments.

We consulted operators. All qualifying local bus service operators had the right to object to the Plan and the Scheme being proposed. The objection period ran from Monday 29 November 2021 until Tuesday 4 January 2022, during which time no formal objections were received.

We also consulted statutory stakeholders – statutory stakeholders are described in Sections 5.1 to 5.5 of the Bus Services Act 2017 Enhanced Partnerships Guidance. The formal stakeholder engagement period ran from Monday 10 January 2022 until Tuesday 8 February 2022. Feedback was largely positive, with no issues arising to prevent the process continuing. 

The initial Plan and Scheme was set out as a shell agreement as funding had not been confirmed at that stage. It has since been through several variations as set out in the summary which follows below:

Reason of variation and changes summary

  • Variation number 1 on 13 October 2022 – to reflect Bus Service Improvement Plan funding allocation confirmed August 2022
  • Variation number 2 on 2 December 2022 – to reflect feedback from the Department for Transport in November 2022
  • Variation number 3 on 17 January 2023 – to reflect comments from the Department for Transport, required by 31 January 2023, to release year 2 Bus Service Improvement Plan funding
  • Variation number 4 on 6 February 2024 – to meet requirements set by the Department for Transport to release year 3 Bus Service Improvement Plan Funding – Annex D added. Reference to Somerset County Council updated to Somerset Council in the Scheme section.

The latest version of the Enhanced Partnership was formally made on 6 February 2024, using the bespoke variation mechanism, set out in the Scheme. 

You can read the full Enhanced Partnership Plan and Scheme

Last reviewed: March 25, 2024 by Qi

Next review due: September 25, 2024

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