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Sustainable Local Transport

Volume 519: debated on Thursday 2 December 2010

Our commitment to sustainable local travel is evidenced by our decision to establish a £560 million local sustainable transport fund. We will shortly set out the criteria for bidding for the fund, and we will publish a White Paper next month setting out the policy initiatives that we will take forward in supporting local authorities to deliver sustainable local travel.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. One of the biggest concerns for many people in rural constituencies such as mine is the future of local bus services. What reassurance can he give to my constituents that the particular needs of rural communities will be truly taken into account in the new funding formula?

It is not a new funding formula. The local sustainable transport fund is a fund to which local authorities can submit bids, so if they have innovative schemes to support rural bus services they will be able put in bids to the fund. The Minister for Local Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), has been working with bus companies and the Local Government Association over the past few weeks to ensure that the guidance to local authorities on the distribution of funding for concessionary fares does protect rural bus services, and he has achieved a major advance in ensuring that rural bus services are protected.

In a constituency such as mine, which consists of towns and many villages but no railway station, the local bus service is absolutely essential in ensuring that our villages remain vibrant hubs and do not become merely dormitories. Does the Minister have any plans to review the 90% law, whereby the local authority has to provide access to a bus service for only 90% of the population?

Local transport and the bus service, in particular, is essential for many people, and of course it needs to be sustainable, but does the Secretary of State agree that cuts of 20% to the bus service operators grant will not only lead to fewer bus services and higher fares, but push people back into their cars and, therefore, do nothing for sustainability?

No, I do not. The hon. Lady will recall that prior to the spending review there was a great deal of speculation that the bus service operators grant would be abolished altogether, and the bus service operators warned of significant fare increases and cuts to services if that were to happen. I am pleased to say that we were able to achieve a cut of only 20% in the BSOG, and the operators indicate to us that that should not lead to a loss of services or to significant fare increases.