Since 2008, the British economy has been facing some of the greatest challenges it has seen for decades.
From stubbornly high youth unemployment to growth figures barely bumping along the bottom and persistently low footfalls on our high streets, the UK is faced with a myriad of complex and finely balanced issues that we must address in order to return to normalcy.
Action is crucial and one thing is clear to me: that buses can, and must, be part of the solution – not only to these issues, but also broader ones of social equality, environmental sustainability and universal prosperity.
The fact is that buses are quite simply the lifeblood of the UK economy.
- because people use buses to make more than a billion shopping and leisure trips, with a value of £27 billion a year
- because every year, buses take millions of people all over this country to work and those commuters create goods and services with a value of £64 billion
- because more people access Britain’s high streets by bus than by any other mode of transport
- because buses are a cost-effective way to cut carbon emissions and reduce traffic congestion
This is why in Bus 2020: A Manifesto for the next Parliament, which I have the pleasure of publishing today, we explain how the next government can harness the power of the bus to make real change in our society and economy.
Firstly, we propose that the next government should expand the support available to local authorities and bus operators for installing bus lanes and improved traffic management systems. This is the best way to reduce journey times and improve reliability, and really cuts to the heart of the conditions needed on the ground for the bus to compete with the car. By 2020 the annual net benefits of this proposal would be just over £1.3 billion by 2020, and there would be a wider jobs impact worth £75 million.
Secondly, we propose a Bus Bonus, a new tax incentive, to encourage people to commute by bus rather than by car. The Bus Bonus would offer a new 34 per cent tax and national insurance saving on season tickets to employees at a workplace with 10 or more staff. The Government would forego some income tax and national insurance revenue. But the annual net benefits would be worth £72 million and the extra jobs created would be worth £25 million.
Third, we want to see more discounted bus travel schemes for young people. As a first step, we call for the development of a concessionary bus travel scheme, offering a 50 per cent discount on bus fares to apprentices. This would represent a significant step in helping young and unemployed people access training. And the scheme would easily pay for itself, with net benefits of £6 million and an annual jobs impact of £8 million.
Successive Governments have failed to capitalise on the potential of the bus to facilitate growth. However, evidence of the wider economic impact of buses has now grown substantially. I would hope, therefore, that proposals like these will be given serious consideration and will in due course be adopted. I hope you feel the same after reading our manifesto for the next Parliament.