Clause 3

Part of Concessionary Bus Travel Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 5th June 2007.

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Photo of David Clelland David Clelland Labour, Tyne Bridge 12:15 pm, 5th June 2007

Thank you, Mr. Bayley, for that guidance. I was just about to come on to the amendments. However, I will just say that, unless the £9 million is refunded, when the national scheme to which the amendments refer starts next year, Tyne and Wear will be starting not from a level playing field, but from a £9 million shortfall.

I understand that in Scotland and Wales the system of funding for subsidised travel is not through local authorities, but directly from the Executive. Amendment No.20 proposes a similar system for England. It is a specific measure and the funding would be directly targeted to where it is intended, so that the full costs to the transport authorities are met. Under the current system, it is nonsense that some councils can have a surplus from the funding and use that for purposes for which it was not intended while other authorities, such as Tyne and Wear, have serious shortfalls. Amendment No. 20 would deal with that anomaly.

In the event that shortfalls do occur in future, amendment No.6 would limit the damage to local authorities. I admit that the figure of £500,000 is somewhat arbitrary and I accept that I would not get away with an amendment that said that every single penny had to be accounted for; that just would not be  possible. However, £500,000 seems to be a reasonable figure. If such a measure had been enacted from the beginning, Tyne and Wear’s losses would have been £500,000 and not the £7.3 million which we had to subsidise, which would have been far more manageable. The introduction of the national scheme is welcome, but it will result in an increased take-up and a change in passenger and operator behaviour that cannot be predicted. It will mean higher costs, particularly in areas where public transport is already heavily used and where increased usage is being encouraged.

I hope that the Minister will accept that those two amendments are sensible and practical and that she agrees that they should be incorporated into the Bill. This is a Government initiative and it should be underwritten by the Government in case of any losses for the local authorities concerned.