Community Transport Operators

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

What steps his Department is taking to support community transport operators.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

Community transport is incredibly important for both urban and rural communities, and in March the Department took steps to protect community transport operators so that they can carry on doing their valuable work. We have clarified, in guidance, the scope of two exemptions from the EU regulation on operator licensing, and we have enacted new legislation. We will revise the guidance on the non-commercial exemption once the High Court has reached a decision, and will carry out a review of the domestic permit regime later in 2019.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

I thank the Minister for her answer. She is right: the service is very valuable. In parts of Bristol South, 40% of people do not own a car or van, so public transport is crucial to getting about in daily life. Will she join me in congratulating Bristol Community Transport on running the M1 metrobus service this year? Does she agree that local authorities need more funding to support bus services, particularly in communities where there are low incomes and older people?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I am more than happy to celebrate the work of Bristol Community Transport; Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership, which is in or close to the hon. Lady’s constituency, also does incredibly good work. We have done everything we can in the Department to be as flexible as possible, so that those with community transport contracts in constituencies can carry on doing their work. We provide substantial financial support for all public transport, but of course I will always aim to secure even more funding, including in the next spending review.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

Community transport in Essex would benefit from investment in Essex’s roads, and particularly from the dualling of the A120 and the widening of A12. Will the Minister work with the Department to ensure that both those schemes feature in the road investment strategy 2?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

That is a fantastic question. My right hon. Friend has captured my imagination, and that of the roads Minister, my hon. Friend Michael Ellis. I believe that the schemes are in the pipeline, and if I cannot meet my right hon. Friend, no doubt the roads Minister will, to make sure that the schemes are carried forward.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

Over 90% of community transport operators in Scotland use section 19 or section 22 permits, but changes to legislation will lead to onerous conditions regarding driver qualifications and bus adaptations, and that threatens the existence of these important service providers. Coalfield Community Transport in my constituency believes that the measures will give them up-front costs of £50,000. Does the Minister accept how real these risks are, and will she meet me to discuss the issue and changes that could be made?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, because I am concerned about the cases that he has raised. I am also concerned that information is not filtering through, and that is creating panic among community transport operators that need not be felt. We have spent a lot of time working with community transport operators and local authorities; I have a list in front of me of everyone to whom we have spoken. Operators can also go on the community transport website, which has further clarification of what needs to be done. If they hold a licence at present, they are eligible to carry on doing their work.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Does Alan Brown want to make a second inquiry? No? I do not want to tempt him beyond his natural appetite. I had him down for two questions, but we are grateful for his self-denying ordinance. In that case, we probably just about have time to include Mr Farron.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

In places such as Sedbergh and Dent, community bus services have become a lifeline for people who would otherwise be isolated from the communities around them, and I am massively grateful to the volunteers who make those services possible. Community bus services have become essential because over the past 30 years Governments of all colours have chosen to stop seeing the provision of bus services as a service at all, and have allowed rural communities such as mine to become increasingly cut off and stranded. Will the Minister agree to launch a new transport deal for rural communities, with new investment for bus services that are regular, reliable and affordable?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman has mixed up two distinct types of services: community transport, and regular bus services. Over £1 billion is spent on concessionary travel, and over £250 million directly on bus service operators grant. If he wants to sit down with me and get further ideas on how his local authority can secure a partnership, I am more than happy to do that.