Buses - New Bill and Regional Devolution

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To: All Branches, Regional Councils and Regional Organisers

27 April 2017
Circular No. NP/65/16
P14
Dear Colleagues

BUSES – NEW BILL AND REGIONAL DEVOLUTION

I write to update you about the Bus Services Bill, which is set to come into force in May.

The Bus Services Bill will grant local authorities in England the power to agree with bus companies, how local bus services should be organised. Such an agreement would be known as an “enhanced partnership” or as an “advanced quality partnership”. Currently bus companies can run, or indeed stop operating routes as they please.

The changes under the bill, are an acknowledgement that the current deregulated system has failed. However, the changes are an attempt to patch up the commercially-operated model, while also discouraging local authorities from owning and running bus services solely themselves.

Under the bill, where a local authority can’t agree how services should be operated, the authority could have the option to apply to the Department for Transport for additional powers for “franchising”. Under franchising - as in the rail sector - routes, service frequency and other operational matters would be set by the local authority. Bus companies would then be invited to bid to run those services.

Bus services have, until recently, been growing in London. The model for organising the sector in London is franchising. That bus services were growing does not necessarily have much to do with the franchising model. It is much more to do with other factors such as population growth in parts of the capital which don’t have Tube stations (eg Hackney).

We are concerned about the disruption to workers, especially from franchising. Franchising will necessarily involve companies no longer operating in certain areas. Although TUPE theoretically protects workers’ terms and conditions (other than pensions), in practice, transferred workers are often vulnerable to unwelcome changes in their employment conditions and status.

Franchising will, at least at the start, be relatively unusual. If it has a chance of having a positive impact, this is most likely to occur in thriving urban areas where car ownership is low - such as Manchester. However, over time we expect to see franchising occurring across many other parts of the country less suited to the model, such as suburban or rural areas.

Under the provisions of the new Act, only directly elected mayors and combined authorities will have the automatic right to introduce franchising. Elections for new mayors are being held in May 2017, therefore the forthcoming mayoral elections are an important opportunity to lobby candidates for mayor not to bring in franchising.

While the Bus Services Bill was before Parliament, there was some possibility of making amendments to the benefit of bus workers. Accordingly, we raised our concerns with politicians friendly to us in Parliament, presenting amendments for them to table which we had commissioned from a specialist lawyer.

Also, we lobbied government to take into account our concerns and met with officials at the Department for Transport (including at ministerial level) many times. This was under the auspices of our Parliamentary Group Convenor and on one occasion with Campaign for Better Transport. We also participated in two workshops hosted by the DfT and attended by bus companies and local authorities.

This enabled us to better understand government proposals and to better explain our resistance.

The union focussed on a number of matters, including TUPE and pension protection subsequent to a transfer arising from a provision of the Bus Services Bill. Following numerous exchanges with the government, I am pleased to report that workers facing a change of employer as a result of the Bus Services Bill, will still be covered by TUPE and we also ensured that previous legislative protections won by the RMT on pensions will be maintained.

We also raised the issue of consultation with workers ahead of companies being invited to bid for franchises. As a result of our pressure, workers have a legal right to be consulted before any franchising can be introduced and this will allow the union early access to discussions to help us protect jobs and conditions.
 
As a result of lobbying, the government has also agreed to extend the notice which companies must give before they quit a service (arising from a provision of the Bus Services Bill). A bus company can be required to give up to112 days’ notice (double the current notice).

The union also raised bus drivers’ safety (more frequent breaks and universal access for workers to “CIRAS” anonymous safety reporting system). We argued for the government to recognise the importance of universal access to CIRAS. We had some success here as well, securing an agreement from the minister to: “explore through guidance how [the government] could encourage operators and local transport authorities to consider the benefits of an independent confidential reporting system”. This has provided a solid platform from which to campaign for the universal right for all UK bus workers to access CIRAS.

As this was legislation confined to England, the government had a significant majority and so despite Labour opposition, was able to force through their outrageous ban on local authorities setting up new publicly owned companies and also defeat Labour’s proposals for a national bus strategy.

We worked closely with Labour throughout the passage of the Bill who backed all of our amendments, including RMT Group Chair Ian Mearns MP who lobbied the transport minister direct and tabled union backed amendments.

We will continue our campaign for a publicly owned bus industry.

Yours sincerely

 

Mick Cash
General Secretary