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BORIS JOHNSON’S pledge to “level up” Britain hit yet another setback today as leaked documents showed Treasury funding for his flagship “bus back better” policy has been halved.
The Prime Minister announced last year that £3 billion would be made available for local authorities to spend on “new funding to level up buses across England towards London standards.”
At the time, Mr Johnson said: “I love buses and I have never quite understood why so few governments before mine have felt the same way.”
But a letter sent to local transport authority directors by the Department for Transport (DfT) on January 11 shows the budget has now shrunk to just £1.4bn for the next three years.
The document, seen by the Observer newspaper, said this will mean “hard choices” for some areas as “prioritisation is inevitable, given the scale of ambition across the country greatly exceeds the amount.”
Figures compiled by Labour’s shadow buses minister Sam Tarry suggest the amount of funding bids submitted by councils is already more than £7bn.
The revelation is a major embarrassment for the government, with Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove expected to publish an already-delayed white paper on how ministers intend to address inequality between regions within the next fortnight.
Mr Tarry said: “The Tories promised ‘transformational’ investment in bus services. But millions of passengers are seeing managed decline.
“They’ve dramatically downgraded the ambitions of local communities.
“With bus services being slashed nationwide, this is proof that this government simply will not and cannot deliver for the people that need it most.”
West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin said the reduced funding was a “major blow” after the HS2 and “northern powerhouse” rail projects were pared back.
“We in the north of England were counting on this funding, so we could deliver the green, reliable and affordable bus network our people deserve,” she stressed.
A DfT spokesperson said: “It is incorrect to claim that funding has been cut from our original ambition.
“Over this parliament, the government has committed to making a step change investment of over £3bn into bus services.
“This includes £1.2bn in dedicated new funding to deliver improvements in fares, services and infrastructure, and a further £355 million of new funding for zero-emission buses.”
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