The question on everyone’s lips for the past five years has been what can we do to get growth?
Housing has received significant attention from the Chancellor – in terms of both increasing building and enabling buying – and certainly the lack of sufficient housing stock is an ongoing problem in the UK.
However housing in itself, and in isolation, does not bring growth. It is how the houses fit as homes for people and fit into the wider fabric of society that brings growth and prosperity into local communities.
Homes need to help workers get good jobs; businesses to have access to suitable workers and suitable customers; young people to have access to the education and training they need; and for everyone to access the leisure services they need to live healthy, productive lives.
It is in this area we need to do better. Any growth strategy has to be tied together by sound infrastructure planning.
Transport is the crucial link in getting growth– and the bus is particularly crucial given two thirds of all public transport journeys are by bus.
Planning too often seems to take insufficient notice of how people are going to get to work or to the shops let alone how they are going to access amenities if they do not have a car, particularly when new houses are built in rural areas. This is not a sustainable situation – 22% of all households have no access to a car, this rises to 44% when we only consider workless households.
With motoring costs rising and incomes increasingly squeezed more people are likely to need to rely more and more on public transport. Similarly, cutting carbon emissions and reducing congestion should also be an increasing priority for us all.
It is therefore essential that all sides get transport infrastructure planning right when planning new housing. Buses must take a front seat in these plans.
Already 2.5 million workers commute by bus every day in this country and a further 1 million use buses as a crucial back up. Bus users contribute £64 billion a year to the UK economy and spend £27.2 billion on our high streets and on leisure activities every year. Over 50% of students over the age of 16 are frequent bus users.
- We need to make sure this current spending is protected by shielding squeezed transport budgets but we must also look to exploit new opportunities for growth by giving those without cars the opportunity to spend their money, get to work and contribute as much as they can to UK plc.
- We need to give companies the tools they need to get the right people into the right jobs – a clear majority of business leaders (51.8%) believe that improving local bus routes would help to grow their business.
- We need to give employees the opportunity to get in to the right jobs – Over half (50%) of workers feel that a better bus service would give them access to a better job
- We need to give people across the UK the opportunity to spend their money in our shops without spending a fortune getting there – already the current combined retail and leisure spend of bus users is £27.2bn of which £21.5bn is spent in town or city
- We need to give young people the opportunity to access education and training – Of people in education and training 12% admitted they would have to miss sessions and 6% would have to look for a different and likely less suitable course if they could no longer travel by bus
Buses can help the government secure green growth and the government needs to recognise their value. Every pound invested in buses is an investment in the future of our communities, our high streets and city centres, our workforce, our young people and our economy.
Photo: Alex Pepperhill