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 (LTAs) would enter Enhanced Partnership (EP) Agreements with local bus operators across the LTA to develop and deliver improvements across local bus services and enhance the experience for passengers. Alternatively, where deemed appropriate LTAs 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.
Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP)
The next stage was to create a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) in partnership with local bus operators for submission to the Department for Transport (DfT) 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 BSIP 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 BSIP at its Cabinet meeting on 20 October 2021. Following the annual review in October 2022, the BSIP remains largely unamended, with a few minor tweaks to reflect the funding allocation. This approach was approved by SCC’s Scrutiny Policy and Place Committee.
In April 2022, the DfT 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 BSIP proposals to meet the indicative funding allowance of approx. £11.9 million. The original proposals had to be scaled down to meet the rules set by the DfT and to be achievable within the funds available. In August 2022, the DfT confirmed that Somerset had been successfully allocated the indicative funding.
You can read a summary of the revised proposals.
Enhanced Partnership (EP)
An Enhanced Partnership (EP) which includes a Plan (The Plan) and Scheme (The Scheme) was created in March 2022 to provide a robust framework in which to deliver the BSIP in accordance with requirements set out by the DfT and in line with the Transport Act 2000 and any subsequent amendments.
A period of operator consultation was undertaken, and all qualifying local bus service operators had the right to object to The Plan and/or 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.
Consultation with statutory stakeholders (as described in Sections 5.1 to 5.5 of Bus Services Act 2017 Enhanced Partnerships Guidance) was undertaken. 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 and has since been varied twice. The first variation included more detail following the announcement of the first tranche of funding and the second to incorporate feedback from the DfT to release the year 2 funding.
The latest version of the EP was formally ‘made’ on 17 January 2023, using the bespoke variation mechanism, set out in The Scheme.
You can read the full documentation on Enhanced Partnership Plan and Scheme