The leader of Leeds City Council has reiterated calls for bus services to be brought back under public control, following a heated debate in the council chamber this afternoon, writes Local Demcoracy Reporter Richard Beecham.
It followed comments from Leeds Conservatives group leader Coun Andrew Carter (Con, Calverley & Farsley), who raised questions about taxpayer investment into bus services following West Yorkshire’s biggest two bus companies being put up for sale.
But Coun Judith Blake (Lab) said that bus services in Leeds were estimated to have lost one million passengers since deregulation in the mid-1980s, and that she wanted bus companies to be brought back into public ownership.
The discussion followed a meeting of West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) last month, during which it was agreed to look into the possibility of “participating” in the sale of First Bus. Both Arriva and First Bus, West Yorkshire’s two largest bus operators, were put up for sale by their respective parent companies earlier this year.
During a members’ questions session of a full Leeds City Council meeting, Coun Carter asked for Coun Blake to produce any contract between Leeds City Council and Arriva or First Bus which set out commitments in return for public investment in bus services.
Coun Blake said terms were agreed with First, similar to agreements in place with Arriva and Transdev, and each agreement had been submitted to the Department for Transport in 2016. Coun Carter responded by suggesting a binding contract should have been signed with Arriva and First.
Coun Blake responded:
“These agreements were made with bus companies to improve bus transport for any bus companies in the city of Leeds.
“As we know, First is up for sale and WYCA leaders working on the board have agreed to pursue the possibility of buying that company – I think that is a very positive step forward and something that needs to be welcomed.
“We don’t know what is going to happen with the takeover but we will work with whoever the new owners are and make sure that they do fully invest in future bus transport.
“The scandal of the bus patronage since bus systems were privatised can’t be allowed to continue. Since 1986, we estimate the number of people using buses in cities across the UK has halved. With that, we believe that is one million less in West Yorkshire.
“We want to make sure, as soon as we possibly can, that we get the bus companies back into public ownership, re-regulated and providing the service that the travelling public need and demand.”