MP hits out at ‘subsidy junkies’

Date published: 01 April 2008

Taxpayers are subsidising some of Rochdale’s buses to the tune of more than £50,000 a year each, an MP claims.

Blackley MP Graham Stringer told the Commons that the private bus companies had become “subsidy junkies”, more interested in how much grant they can claim than running a service for passengers.

He was speaking in the second reading of the Local Transport Bill which plans to give councils and transport authorities powers to introduce quality contracts with operators to control routes, frequencies and fares.

Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority often steps in to subsidise uncommercial but socially necessary services when private bus companies pull out.

Overall, Mr Stringer said, buses are subsidised by £3,500 each per year. But the figure becomes a staggering £53,500 per year, per bus, for services tendered by local authorities to save them when operators abandon them as unprofitable.

“This is incredible,” he said. “The Brian Souters (Stagecoach chairman) are always asking for more.”

Stagecoach reacted furiously to Mr Stringer’s claims. “It is absolute nonsense,” said a spokesman. “The vast majority of all operators’ services are run on a commercial basis and cost the taxpayer nothing.

“In fact, we are a multi-million-pound net contributor to the taxpayer.”

Mr Stringer’s remarks were immediately backed by Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority chairman Councillor Roger Jones, who said: “The whole subsidy system should be overhauled and should be based on performance and quality.”

But Councillor Jones will not be happy with the MP’s assessment of Greater Manchester’s plans for congestion charging.

The area is being blackmailed by the government, he told parliament, adding: “It seems to me that the case for investing in trams and trains stands on its own and you would have to make a separate case for congestion charging.”

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