§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport(Mr. Tony McNulty)
The Department for Transport will shortly be taking steps to improve the potential effectiveness of the quality contracts provisions in the Transport Act 2000.
The Act requires each local transport authority, after consultation with local bus operators and other stakeholders, to prepare a bus strategy to ensure that bus services meet the transport needs of local people and are of an appropriate standard. These strategies are translating into excellent practical results in some areas, with improved services and waiting facilities and increased ridership. In these places passengers are getting a better deal through local authorities and bus operators working creatively together.
The Act provides various ways in which local transport authorities can more effectively influence local bus services—statutory quality partnership schemes, ticketing schemes and information strategies. We want local authorities to make full use of these powers. We are pleased that the first statutory quality partnership is to be launched shortly, and we hope to see more of these. Statutory quality partnerships are an essential element of our vision for buses in the context of an integrated transport approach.
The Act also enables local authorities to make quality contract (or "QC") schemes where such a scheme is the only practical way for an authority to implement the policies in its bus strategy, and would do so in a way which is economic, efficient and effective.
All proposed QC schemes need to be submitted to the Department for approval. Approval may be given if a scheme meets the criteria set out in the Act and is in the public interest. Although the provision has been in force since October 2001, no such schemes have been submitted to date. However, the provision is there to be used where the circumstances justify it.
Some local transport authorities believe that they might meet the criteria for making a QC scheme but have been deterred by the length of time which the process will take. A particular issue is the 21-month minimum period which must elapse between the making of the scheme (after it has been approved) and its coming into force.
I am persuaded that, where a local bus strategy cannot otherwise be delivered, 21 months may be too long in certain circumstances for passengers to wait for improvements. The Department will be issuing a consultation document shortly to give the bus industry, local authorities and other stakeholders an opportunity 36WS to express their views on the implications of reducing the 21 months to a shorter minimum period, in the range 6–15 months.
Some local transport authorities have requested guidance from the Department on the procedure to be followed in making an application, the supporting evidence required and the matters that will be taken into account in deciding whether to approve an application, including appraisal of the public interest. I have decided therefore that, in the interest of transparency, the Department should publish guidance on these matters that is available to all. The Department will shortly consult the main stakeholders on a draft guidance document before publishing it in its definitive form.