Speech

2012 UK Bus Awards lunch speech

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by Norman Baker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport.

The Rt Hon Norman Baker

Opening remarks

Thank you for that introduction.

Thank you also for inviting me along.

It’s a pleasure to be here today at my third consecutive UK Bus Awards.

That’s one for every Transport Secretary since I became a minister at the DfT.

This year I’m lucky enough to be sharing the stage with Jane (Jane Hill – BBC News).

A journalist and a newsreader, a TV anchor and a radio presenter - Jane is one of the country’s most familiar faces and familiar voices.

I also have it on good authority that Jane is a big fan of Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’.

A drama come soap opera that seems to have been around forever.

Characters that not too many of the public would recognise in the street

And people living in a make-believe world which critics claim bears little resemblance to everyday life in modern Britain.

Some might say this all sounds a bit like the House of Commons.

Speaking up for the bus industry

Now, I hope I’ve not just been the consistent ministerial face at the DfT - I’ve also tried to be a consistent voice when it comes to speaking up for the bus industry.

So I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it - Britain’s buses matter.

And here are a few familiar facts and figures that prove why:

  • bus travel accounts for 63% of all public transport journeys
  • last year in Great Britain buses clocked up 5.2 billion passenger journeys
  • and, as well as contributing more than £2 billion a year to the economy, the bus industry provides 124,000 direct jobs and supports an estimated 83,000 jobs through the supply chain.

Buses also open up access to vital public services such as health and education.

What’s more, they provide a transport link between worker and workplace, with some two and a half million jobs accessed every day by bus, which is more than by all other forms of public transport combined.

But, increasingly, buses are also helping to safeguard our environment

For example, thanks to this government’s Green Bus Fund we’re seeing more and more low emission buses on our streets.

Buses that emit around 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than standard diesel buses and use around a third less fuel.

And earlier this month I was pleased to announce an extra £20 million for what is now the 4th round of the Green Bus Fund, bringing the total support for this initiative to £95 million since its launch.

As highlighted in Greener Journey’s ‘Buses and economic growth report’ not only are buses the backbone of our public transport system, they can also boost economic growth and cut carbon by reducing congestion and replacing car journeys.

An industry equal to testing times

This then is an industry that makes a difference. But it’s also an industry that isn’t short of challenges.

For example, BSOG and concessionary travel

On BSOG I of course recognise that the rate was cut by 20% from April.

But I also think it’s worth remembering that the government realised the importance of giving you plenty of time to get ready for this.

Which is why we gave the bus market 18 months advance notice of the change.

And let me say this on the issue of concessionary travel.

We’ve made sure that bus operators will be reimbursed so that they are “no better and no worse off” by carrying concessionary passengers.

And, because, we want the processes surrounding this to be as fair as possible, we’ve also speeded up the appeals mechanism.

Look, I know that it’s not easy for operators right now.

Fluctuating fuel prices and the backdrop of a tough economic climate make these testing times for businesses and families across the country.

The latest figures show bus patronage was down 0.3% in non-metropolitan areas and while this is unwelcoming it is far from the apocalypse scene commentators were predicting. Indeed overall, bus patronage across England rose by 0.5%.

I was also pleased to see that 85% of bus passengers are satisfied with their service. And even in the area of lowest satisfaction it was still 79%. I haven’t seen the latest comparable figures for satisfaction with politicians and journalists but I’m told it’s not quite that high.

In other words, these may be testing times but, once again, the industry is showing itself to be equal to them.

Green light for better buses

Indeed, I sense a mood of quiet optimism that was especially tangible at the recent 2012 Euro Bus Expo, which I was delighted to open and where I was able to speak with many in the industry.

But I also know that there is more to do. Now is not the time for the engine to tick over at the bus stop, we have to keep moving forward.

That’s why earlier this year I set out my vision for buses in the DfT policy document Green light for better buses.

I believe that this report will help provide stability in the industry by reforming subsidy, improving competition and Incentivise partnership working.

At its heart is a shared vision for a bus service that is reliable and flexible, efficient and innovative.

One that offers competitive prices and smarter ticketing.

A bus service that gives taxpayers real value for money and passengers a travel option they want to use time and again.

A bus service that is successful and sustainable.

A bus service that people want to use, not one they use because they have to.

Young people

I’d argue that one of the best ways to ensure success and sustainability over the long-term is to encourage much greater bus travel among that section of the market that is literally the future of the industry - young people.

This is a challenge that cannot be side-stepped.

In fact, just this month the Youth Select Committee published its report on ‘Transport and young people’.

That report called for the age at which young people start paying full fares to be set at 18 across England and for the introduction of a national concessionary scheme to provide a discounted bus travel card for those younger.

Well I am looking at this report very seriously and I really do want to work with operators, and also local authorities, to improve the deal for our young people.

So, as I said, this is a challenge we have to meet.

But it’s also an opportunity.

So let’s think about all the ways we can use bus services to help young people access employment and training opportunities.

Let’s make bus travel easy and attractive for young people by building on initiatives like Confederation of Passenger Transport’s excellent ‘Bus for us’ interactive website.

I’m delighted that, since I launched it, over 80 of the UK’s bus operators are already signed up to ‘Bus for us’ - equivalent to 85% of the bus market.

I’d like to see all operators on board in the near future. There’s room on top for the rest. My message to the remaining 15% is don’t miss the bus.

Let’s also be innovative about the fare deals and the discounts on offer to young people…and the great work done by Trent Barton in this area shows it can be done.

Let’s deliver some consistency too.

For example, TCA-led youth concessions are offered in 28 TCAs outside London, and a commercial youth concession is available in 80 TCAs.

So there are some good things going on.

But why is it that in some places there are no concessions at all? And how can it be that in one area a 16 year old might get free bus travel while, in another, a 14 year old pays full adult fare?

So let’s come together and work together to support our young people.

Put simply, let’s win over the next generation of bus passengers.

Pay tribute to all the nominees

Now let me return to the reason why we are all here.

I said earlier that I’m proud to be the bus champion in government.

But I’m also just as proud of the people and organisations working in the bus industry.

And, this afternoon, we rightly take the time to recognise some of the brightest and the best in the industry.

22 categories in this year’s awards:

  • individuals and teams
  • local authorities and operators
  • cities and shires
  • small projects and big projects

All making today’s shortlist.

All very different.

But all with something in common….excellence and achievement.

For me, these awards show that the hallmarks of your industry are innovation, professionalism and sheer hard work.

They also show that, at its heart, your industry is all about people.

We can talk about investment. And we can debate the pros and cons of one policy versus another.

But, when push comes to shove, it’s the people in the bus industry who make the difference.

Making the difference because they understand the needs of the travelling public.

Making the difference because they want to provide a first class service.

Making the difference by delivering real improvements on the ground.

That’s who, and what, we are honouring today….and so I pay tribute to all of this year’s nominees.

Conclusions

Okay. They do say that making a speech is a bit like having a fight – any fool can start one, the real skill is knowing when and how to end it.

Well, I know you’re keen to get on with handing out those awards, so you’ll be pleased to hear that the when has arrived.

As for how to end it it simply remains for me to thank you for your hospitality, to thank you for listening and to wish all those waiting to hear if they’ve won the very best of luck.

Thank you and hopefully I’ll see you all next year.

Published 20 November 2012