A HEATED special debate over public transport funding saw Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis brand a Conservative leader as ‘needing to do his homework’ - adding the government made a ‘political decision’ not to award transformational funding locally.
The Barnsley Central MP - who was, until yesterday, South Yorkshire Mayor and recently mounted a failed campaign to improve transport in the region - clashed with Alexander Stafford, MP for Rother Valley who chaired the debate at Westminster Hall.
Mr Jarvis’ ambition in putting forward the £474m bid - from a total £1.2bn government funding pot - was questioned and it was claimed he was ‘more concerned with attacking the government’.
The bid would have resulted in a fare cap, greater priority for buses, new high-tech shelters and free travel for under-18s - but the plans were dismissed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Mr Stafford raised the debate to call for a body dubbed ‘Transport for South Yorkshire’ to be set up and made responsible for co-ordinating local transport.
“This means delivering a fully integrated bus service with more frequent services, subsidised pricing for less commercial routes and levelling up physical and digital bus infrastructure,” he added.
“It is clear that the current leadership in South Yorkshire has no vision for our area and is more concerned with attacking the Government than fixing the problems we have.”
Mr Jarvis - who claims the region has ‘been shafted’ by the government - said: “The Conservative government, slavishly supported at every turn by Mr Stafford, has consistently let down the travelling public in South Yorkshire and failed to deliver the much needed investment in our bus services.
“We put forward an ambitious and achievable Bus Service Improvement Plan and didn’t receive a penny in investment; that tells you all you need to know about this Government’s commitment to levelling up South Yorkshire.
“It beggars belief that the member for Rother Valley - who was nowhere to be seen when the graft was being done to prepare the bid or the work to lobby government for investment - now seeks to make political capital out of his own government’s shameful track record of failure.”
Bringing transport back into public control has been a major talking point locally ahead of this week’s mayoral elections, with trade unions backing campaigners’ calls to instate a 100-day pledge for the successful candidate.
The vote in favour of the 100-day pledge was passed unanimously following a similar vote in 2021 which led Tracy Brabin, West Yorkshire Mayor, to begin the bus franchising process just 50 days after she was elected.
Exploration of a franchising model has been given the backing of local authority heads, although Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton told a recent meeting there was ‘no quick fix’ and made reference to legal action raised by transport operators in Greater Manchester as a potential sticking point.
About £5m is set to be spent on assessing the franchising model and its development, but ‘further substantial costs’ would be incurred if the nod is given.
Under a franchising scheme, accountability would be taken from private operators - who have overseen numerous service cuts, fare increases and recent strike action over pay - to local councils.
The process, once started, is expected to take more than three years.