Unite has slammed a new law that prevents local authorities in England from creating publicly owned bus services as “outrageous”.
Despite the controversial Bus Services Bill being given royal assent and turned into an Act of Parliament, the union successfully lobbied for a number of amendments that will protect bus workers’ terms and conditions.
The Act was formulated in response to the ditching of unprofitable services – including rural routes that are lifelines for the elderly, poor and disabled – by bus companies whose council subsidies have been cut under austerity.
Under the bill, where a local authority and a bus company can’t agree how services should be operated, the authority can apply to the Department for Transport for “franchising” powers.
By franchising bus services, the local authority is allowed to set routes, service frequency and other operational matters.
Bus companies can then be invited to bid to run those services.
However the Conservatives also forced through a clause that bans local authorities from running their own services – even though council-run companies have won Bus Operator of the Year for four out of the last five years.
While the clause was described as “a piece of political dogma from the Conservative Party” by Lord Kennedy and was opposed by the Labour party as it traveled through parliament, the government’s majority meant it was passed in England at the end of April.
However, Unite were successful in lobbying the government and the Department for Transport to take into account the concerns of bus workers, Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton explained.
“Though we would have liked to have seen the Tories’ outrageous ban on local authorities setting up publicly owned bus services defeated, Unite did manage to secure TUPE and pension protections for employees affected by transfers under the Bus Services Act as well as a legal right for our members to be consulted before any franchising is introduced,” Morton said.
“The changes to the way bus services are run in England is tacit acknowledgement that the current deregulated system has failed,” he added. “It can’t be right that a handful of big businesses can decide that they are going to cut vital bus services to the bone, or cancel them altogether, simply to eke out every last bit of profit.
“The bill will do little to solve this, so Unite will continue to fight for publicly owned bus services that put the needs of the public first.”