New Clause 3 — Review of reimbursement arrangements
Orders of the Day
Gillian Merron (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport; Lincoln, Labour)
We return once more to this important Bill, and in particular to the issue of funding for local authorities, which we discussed at great length in Committee, including the arrangements for the reimbursement of bus operators.
May I begin by thanking my hon. Friend Jim Cousins and his near neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr. Kemp, for recognising the importance of the Bill to passengers, to the improvement of bus services—and the figures are coming through—to efforts to tackle social exclusion, and to the improvement of the public transport network. That is why I am great supporter and advocate of this Labour Government Bill. I appreciate, too, the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne about saving the Government from judicial review, and I am happy to take his advice.
I shall make some general points before coming to the specific matters raised by the amendments. I have previously stated—and I am happy to restate it—that I agree absolutely with the sentiment that local authorities should indeed be adequately funded by central Government for the costs of administering that mandatory concession. After all, it is the Government's policy to fund fully new statutory burdens. Let us be honest: it is in everyone's interest in the House that we get it right, and that is what I am keen to do. As hon. Members know—and I will restate it for the record—the Government will provide up to an extra £250 million of funding a year for the proposed new national bus concession. That is in addition to the significant extra funding that we have already provided to local authorities for the implementation last year of free off-peak local bus travel within local authorities. We provided £350 million in 2006-07, and £367.5 million in 2007-08. We remain confident that there is sufficient overall to fund the extra costs to local authorities to provide that welcome improvement, which has benefited millions of people. I shall come to our calculations in a few moments and explain them.