New analysis finds Government funding intended to transform buses is disadvantaging rural communities

1 July 2022

New analysis from Campaign for Better Transport has highlighted how the competitive nature of Government funding for local transport is disadvantaging rural local authorities and failing rural communities.

The transport charity found that the Government’s system of asking local transport authorities to compete against each other for funding is consistently producing the same winners and losers. The Government’s most recent funding, intended to transform local bus services, further compounded the problem with the perennial losers missing out yet again.

The analysis is being published on the same day (1 July) as the deadline for transport operators to submit any planned changes to bus services this Autumn as a result of the ending of Covid-related recovery funding on 1 October. Up to a third of services were threatened earlier in the year before the funding was extended.

Silviya Barrett, from Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Our analysis has uncovered a painful truth, that the Government’s policy of asking local authorities to compete for local transport funding is producing the same winners and losers time and again. This shouldn’t be the case. All communities deserve a reliable, regular and affordable bus service. To ensure this happens, the Government must move away from this fragmented and competitive way of funding and replace it with a long-term funding settlement for all transport authorities.”

Campaign for Better Transport analysed allocations of sustainable transport funding from central government for local transport authorities over the last decade, including the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, Transforming Cities Fund, Access Fund, Active Travel Fund, Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme and the recent Bus Service Improvement Plan funding (BSIPs) which was intended to transform bus services as part of the National Bus Strategy.

It found that combined mayoral authorities with large, experienced transport teams, and urban unitary or county councils that already have high levels of ambition and a history of investing in sustainable transport are receiving the bulk of Government funding. Whereas more rural unitary and county councils are repeatedly losing out, despite often needing more support to overcome greater barriers to providing a good bus network such as a more dispersed population and a lower return on investment due to lower passenger numbers than more urban areas.

Campaign for Better Transport’s analysis found that:

  • The top 12 local authorities awarded the most government funding are all urban authorities
  • Of those, eight are mayoral combined authorities
  • Only four out of the top 25 councils are considered predominantly rural
  • 15 of the bottom 25 local authorities that have historically received the least funding are considered predominantly rural or urban with significant rural areas
  • Of the top 25 winning authorities overall, 16 also received BSIP funding compared to only one of the bottom 25.

To address the inherent inequality and lack of funding for buses, Campaign for Better Transport is calling for an end to fragmented and competitive funding, and for money to be reallocated from carbon intensive transport, like road building, into a single funding pot for all local authorities so that all areas can achieve a decent level of provision. It is also calling for a greater proportion of funds allocated to revenue funding to help boost service provision and frequency and to improve affordability for passengers.

Commenting on the research, Graham Vidler, Chief Executive of CPT, said: “Campaign for Better Transport’s research highlights the very different outcomes which local authorities have seen in recent rounds of bidding to transform bus services. Now is the time for Government to commit further, long-term funding to turn the ambition of the national bus strategy into tangible improvements for passengers everywhere.”


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Notes to Editors

Top ten ‘winning’ local transport authorities Bottom ten ‘losing’ local transport authorities
1. Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) 68. Rutland County Council
2. West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) 69. Worcestershire County Council
3. West Yorkshire Combined Authority 70. West Berkshire Council
4. North East Joint Transport Committee 71. Torbay Council
5. Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA) 72. Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
6. Sheffield City Region / South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) 73. Northamptonshire County Council
7. West of England Combined Authority (WECA) 74. Bracknell Forest Council
8. Nottingham City Council 75. East Riding of Yorkshire Council
9. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) 76. North Lincolnshire Council
10. Portsmouth City Council 77. Medway Council
  • Read Campaign for Better Transport’s analysis in full.
  • The analysis compared a selection of competitive funding pots for local authority sustainable transport initiatives, including for buses. It is not intended to be an exhaustive audit of all government funding to local authorities.
  • Read Campaign for Better Transport’s new briefing, Funding local bus services in England: How to ensure every community gets the bus service it needs, which outlines what needs to be done to tackle bus inequality and ensure a bus network fit for purpose.
  • The Government asked local authorities to submit Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) to outline how they would improve bus services in their areas. Of the original £3 billion promised as part of the National Bus Strategy, just £1.1 billion was allocated to 31 local authorities – 40 per cent of those which applied – meaning the vast majority of local authorities missed out on any funding from this pot. Our calculations show that even those that did receive funding received less than they asked for. The proportion of the ask that was funded ranged from two to 75 per cent; just under a quarter (24 per cent) of the total original ask (for authorities where this was known) was funded.
  • Analysis by The Confederation of Passenger Transport (which represents bus operators) of BSIPs covering 72 per cent of passenger services found that they asked for a total of more than £7 billion. Scaled up to take account of all BSIPs this would rise to around £10 billion needed, far more than the £1.1 billion allocated.
  • The National Bus Strategy, Bus Back Better, recognised that many local transport authorities lacked the resources and expertise to deliver on its ambitions and promised support through a £25 million capability fund and a Bus Centre of Excellence. This has yet to be delivered.
  • 1 July is the deadline for transport operators to submit any planned changes to services this Autumn as a result of the ending of Covid-related recovery funding on 1 October. This funding was originally meant to end in March this year and at that point operators expected to cut around a third of services as a result. An extension of this funding was secured after campaigning by Campaign for Better Transport and others, but with passenger numbers still below pre-pandemic levels, cuts are still inevitable once the funding finally ends according to The Confederation of Passenger Transport.
  • Overall, 53 per cent of all local transport authorities are considered predominantly urban, 22 per cent urban with significant rural and 18 per cent predominantly rural.
  • Campaign for Better Transport research found that 1 in 4 bus services have disappeared in the last decade.
  • Campaign for Better Transport operates in England and Wales. Campaign for Better Transport’s vision is for all communities to have access to high quality, sustainable transport that meets their needs, improves quality of life and protects the environment. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).