Scottish bus services and the 'Buses' White Paper

Hart, Tom (1984) Scottish bus services and the 'Buses' White Paper. Quarterly Economic Commentary, 10 (1). pp. 77-81. ISSN 0306-7866

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The White Paper on 'Buses' (Cmnd 9300; 1984) is undoubtedly a revolutionarydocument. The overriding theme is that, while the rise in car ownership and othershifts in lifestyle have created problems for the sector, the major current difficulties derive from lax growth of subsidies to an industry with a seriouslydefective structure. A rise in revenue support from £10m in 1972 to £520m in 1982 (£38m being in Scotland) has failed to reverse the decline in patronage and has come into sharp conflict with government's desire to cut public spending. Thebudgeted revenue support of English local authorities for buses in 1984/85 is still83? above government provision. The Scottish excess is lower, but still significant, at 34? The White Paper insists that these spending levels must be reduced yet goes on to argue that, in a fully competitive environment, spending cuts will be compatible with a reversal of public transport's declining share of the travel market. Since spending would be concentrated on specific social objectives, the government's view is that increased competition need not mean any increase in social deprivation. The urgency for structural change in the industry is stressed and legislation is anticipated in the 1984/85 parliamentary session. This briefing considers whether the proposals in the White Paper are appropriate and adequate to revive British public transport more generally while contributing to cost reductions.