On 22nd March 2016 Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the levels of service provision and council tax following local authority budget decisions for 2016–17.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a follow up question about rural bus services.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, recently the Campaign for Better Transport has estimated that local authority subsidies for rural bus services are likely to be cut this year alone by £27 million. In Hertfordshire, where I live and work, there have been cuts since 2010 of 62%. Forty rural bus services have seen radical declines and 14 have gone altogether. While I recognise some of the things the Government are doing, not least the serious increase in the rural services delivery grant, will the Minister tell your Lordships’ House the long-term plans of Her Majesty’s Government to engage with local authorities to ensure that we have proper rural transport as one of the essential elements of rural sustainability?
Viscount Younger of Leckie: The entire point of our devolution revolution is that all authorities will have the power to set their own policy agendas and target their spending priorities to match. Local leaders know best what is right for them and we think it is right that Whitehall does not predict exactly what the cost of a local service will be, including the bus service. But by 2020, when councils will be 100% funded by council tax, business rates and other local revenues, they will finally be fully accountable to their electorate and not to Whitehall. This is devolution.