At-risk bus companies in Milton Keynes to be thrown a £700,000 financial lifeline

Bus companies are to be thrown a £711,152 lifeline to save vital services across Milton Keynes.

Use of public transport across Milton Keynes has collapsed to a fraction of what it used to be – threatening the existence of routes and companies.

Now Milton Keynes Council has been told that it can pay subsidies to the bus companies in advance.

Tuesday’s decision, due to be taken by council leader Pete Marland, will see the money come from the council’s parking account.

The parking account has also been hit badly as people stay at home during the Covid-19 crisis, which means the decision will have a knock-on effect on other services.

In his report to Cllr Marland, Steve Hayes, the council’s head of transport revealed the dramatic decline in passenger numbers and the threat to the industry.

He said: “Impact varies from route to route, but data received to date suggests passenger numbers in April were between five per cent and 20 per cent of normal levels.

“This threatens the viability of the bus industry as revenue has been virtually eliminated.

“Although very few passengers are currently using buses, services are still running at around 50 per cent of normal levels in order to provide transport for key workers and essential journeys, so costs are still being incurred.”

The council says it has worked closely with operators to adapt their networks to provide the best services.

As well as paying in advance, at last year’s rates, money that would have been paid for concessionary fares, the Government has created an additional fund.

The decision has already been scrutinised by council officers behind the scenes and deemed to be appropriate to follow.

The council has a COVID-19 Financial Authorisation Board (FAB) but because the amount of money is more than a certain amount, the decision has to be made by the elected leader.

Cllr Marland will officially make the decision at 5.30pm on Tuesday, May 19. It will be broadcast on the council’s YouTube channel.

Bus operators will have to provide their accounts to the council so that any overpayments can be reclaimed.

But the council says having a healthy bus industry is vital to the city.

Mr Hayes concluded his report with a stark warning about the future of the industry.

He said: “It is worth considering that despite these proposed payments there is no certainty that operators will return services to pre-Covid levels or even remain solvent over the coming months, particularly as the recovery in patronage is likely to be slow.

“This is recognised by the Department for Transport (DfT) and further advice is anticipated on Government support for industry in the longer term.

“This decision, therefore, covers payments for May and June 2020 only, anticipating that further advice will be forthcoming for future
months.”