In the 2019 Queen’s Speech and 2019–21 parliamentary session, the Government made several commitments relating to transport policy. This included plans to legislate to provide for minimum levels of service on railways during strikes and to protect consumers should an airline or travel company collapse.

Railways minimum service levels legislation

In the Queen’s Speech 2019, the Government outlined its intention to introduce legislation to provide for minimum levels of service on railways during transport strikes. The Government hoped this would reduce the disruption caused to the public during such strikes, whilst also “preserving rail workers’ right to strike”. The legislation would provide for minimum service agreements, which would set out the minimum service pattern to be provided during rail strikes. The agreements would also set out the minimum number and the nature of staff that will be working to provide a service during a strike.

In its 2019 Queen’s Speech briefing, the Government had stated that any strike against a rail employer shall be considered “unlawful” unless an agreement was in place. This, in turn, could result in damages and injunctions against a union. The Government stated that it would be consulting on how to implement this proposal in a “proportionate way”, which included ensuring sanctions were not directed at individual workers.

The Government intended to introduce legislation during the last parliamentary session. However, no bill emerged before the session ended.

Airline insolvency legislation

In 2017, the Government launched the Airline Insolvency Review, an independent review into consumer protection in the event of an airline or travel company collapsing. In particular, the review would draw on lessons from the collapse of the Monarch airline, and would consider repatriation and refund protection for consumers of insolvent airlines. A consultation inviting views on possible solutions for such situations took place between April and May 2018.

In March 2019, the Airline Insolvency Review published its full report. It called for new arrangements to be put in place to finance the cost of protecting consumers. This would be based on requiring all airlines serving the UK market to pay for financial protections to cover the estimated cost of repatriating their UK-originating passengers to the UK in the event of insolvency. To deliver this protection, the review stated it would require “a number of improvements to the current legislative and regulatory arrangements” for UK airlines. The Government has yet to respond to the review.

In the 2019 Queen’s Speech, the Government announced it would be introducing airline insolvency legislation. The main elements of the legislation would:

  • introduce a special administration regime for airlines to support the needs of passengers post-insolvency and to keep aircraft fleet flying long enough for passengers to be repatriated;
  • enhance the Civil Aviation Authority’s regulatory powers to “improve their oversight of airlines in distress” and mitigate the impacts of a future airline failure;
  • reform airline insolvency to “strike a better balance between strong consumer protection and the interests of taxpayers”;
  • extend the Civil Aviation Authority’s remit to apply the repatriation of both Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) and non-ATOL protected passengers; and
  • establish and enhance a repatriation toolkit of mechanisms for companies and passengers, such as making it easier for the Civil Aviation Authority to grant a Temporary Airline Operating Licence to ensure an airline can continue repatriating passengers following an insolvency.

In October 2020, the Government said it had considered the review’s recommendations and was keeping it “under the scope and timing of any future reforms in this policy area”.

National bus strategy for England

On 10 February 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced £5 billion of new funding to “level up local transport connections” throughout the country. The Government said the investment will “boost bus services” by focusing on several priorities, including:

  • higher frequency services, including evenings and weekends;
  • new priority schemes to make routes more efficient, so that buses avoid congested routes and can speed passengers through traffic;
  • more affordable, simple rates; and
  • at least 4,000 new zero emission buses to make greener travel the “convenient option”, to progress the UK in its net zero ambitions.

In March 2021, the Government published its national bus strategy for England, which contained several measures announced as part of the Government’s priorities for bus services. The strategy called for statutory enhanced partnerships or franchising arrangements between transport operators and local transport authorities. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government said it wanted all local authorities to commit to one of these options by 30 June 2021 to receive further emergency funding from the Covid-19 Bus Services Support Grant. At present, the Bus Services Act 2017 (the 2017 act) prevents further municipal (local authority-owned) bus companies being set up. The Government also expected local transport authorities, in collaboration with operators, to have produced local bus service improvement plans by the end of October 2021. These plans will detail how authorities use their powers to improve bus services.

In April 2021, the Government was asked whether it planned to bring forward legislative proposals to amend the 2017 act. In response, the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Transport, Rachel Maclean, said the national bus strategy committed the Government to review whether it “remains right” that the 2017 act prevented further local authority-owned bus companies being created. Ms Maclean said that if the review concludes it should be changed, a legislative proposal would be brought forward in “due course”.

Other measures

Read more

Cover image by Shutterbug75 on Pixabay.