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Rural councils keep missing out on transport funding, analysis shows


Deniz Huseyin
13 July 2022
Rural councils face barriers to providing a good bus network
Rural councils face barriers to providing a good bus network

The competitive nature of Government funding for local transport is disadvantaging rural councils and failing rural communities, according to new analysis from Campaign for Better Transport (CBT).

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

CBT published its analysis on 1 July, the deadline for transport operators to submit any planned changes to bus services in the autumn linked to the end 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.

CBT 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 more recent Bus Service Improvement Plan funding (BSIPs), designed to transform bus services as part of the National Bus Strategy.

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 getting the bulk of Government funding, the analysis revealed. Meanwhile, 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”.

CBT 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 councils 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.

CBT 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 councils so that all areas can achieve a decent level of provision. A greater proportion of funds should be allocated to revenue funding to help boost service provision and frequency and to improve affordability for passengers, it said.

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.”

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