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2 May 2018updated 06 Aug 2021 5:27pm

Exclusive: more than half the buses in Chris Grayling’s constituency have been nationalised… but not by the UK

While the Transport Secretary has outlawed local government from running its own buses, most of his constituents travel on buses run by French or German state-owned operators

By Jonny Ball

Research by Spotlight has shown that 56 per cent of the buses in Epsom and Ewell, the Secretary of State for Transport’s constituency, and 37 per cent of buses across Greater London are operated by companies wholly owned by the governments of France, Germany and the Netherlands.

At the beginning of this year, Chris Grayling took to Conservative Home to remind readers “how badly nationalisation failed key public services”. But the nationalised firms that operate most of the bus services in Epsom and Ewell include Quality Line, which is part of the state-owned French company, RATP Group, and Arriva, a wholly owned subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, a German private joint stock company whose only shareholder is the German government.

Nor is the People’s Republic of Epsom and Ewell unusual in this respect. More than a third (37 per cent) of London buses are operated by companies owned by other states, with a significant proportion of the profits from London’s £4.8bn in transport fares heading overseas to support German, French and Dutch public services. Figures in TfL’s latest available fleet audit reveal that three publicly owned companies and their subsidiaries – Abellio, Arriva, and RATP Group – have responsibility for 258 of the capital’s 675 bus routes, and run 3,560 of the capital’s total fleet of 9,549 buses.

Abellio, which is part of Nederlandse Spoorwegen – a wholly state-owned Dutch transport company – runs 59 routes with 656 buses. Quality Line, London Sovereign and London United are all part of the French RATP Group, and together run 85 routes with 1,162 buses. Arriva London, owned by the German government, runs 1,600 buses over 114 routes.

Last year Grayling pushed the Bus Services Act through parliament, introducing a franchising model that gave local authorities the same power as TfL to put routes out to tender to competing private enterprises. However, the Act also bars local authorities from establishing their own municipally owned bus companies. Grayling defended the ban by saying that he wanted “to retain the strengths of the private sector”. But the reality of who runs British bus services suggests that government is only opposed to publicly owned companies winning lucrative transport contracts if it is the British public that owns them.

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Last year, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) released a video which claimed that fares in the UK effectively subsidise Dutch, German and French public services because state-owned public transport companies also operate large parts of the UK’s rail network. At the time, the video’s creator told the New Statesman that “for all the Brexiteer language about taking back control… they fall silent when it comes to privatisation”. Leave voters may be surprised to learn that in Epsom and Ewell, British public services are to a great extent run by the European governments whose co-operation Grayling, an ardent Brexiteer, campaigned to reject.

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