In 2005, the Department published a document on its website detailing best practice in the process of tendering for subsidised bus services, along with examples of specimen conditions for contracts, as part of its wider guidance to local authorities. The guidance remains available, and there are currently no plans to update it. The Department’s website also provides guidance on the de minimis rules for tendering.
It was Baroness Thatcher who said that if a man finds himself on a bus at the age of 26, he is a failure. I assure the Minister that that is not the case in Newcastle, where the buses are an essential part of our economy. They are how we get to work. Will he assure us that, under the coalition Government, local authorities will have the powers to ensure that we have excellent bus services?
We recognise that bus travel is the predominant form of public transport, and we want to encourage that. We also want to get better value for the taxpayer and the fare payer from the bus services that are provided. We also recognise the good work that many local authorities do in dealing with bus services, and I particularly want to pay tribute to the Tyne and Wear integrated transport authority, which is designing a comprehensive bus network to improve standards of accessibility for local residents.
I welcome the Minister to his new role; I am sure that he will do an excellent job. We heard earlier that he had been unsuccessful in persuading his colleagues to change their views on carriages and rail fares. Has he had any more luck in changing their views on quality bus contracts? He will be aware that local authorities outside London want the same powers as those in London to choose to enter into quality bus contracts with bus operators. Local authorities around the country, led by all parties, are in favour of that, and so was the Minister before the election. Is he still in favour of it, and, if so, has he persuaded his colleagues to change their minds?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind welcome. He was always considerate and helpful to me when I was in opposition, and I shall try to be equally helpful to him, now that the position has changed.
The legislation on quality contracts is as it is; it was set out and passed under the previous Government, and it remains in place. The Competition Commission is undertaking an investigation into the bus market, and it would be premature for me to make any further comments until it is completed.