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Sustainable Transport

Volume 521: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2011

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement to accompany the publication today of the coalition Government’s White Paper on local transport, and the simultaneous publication of bidding guidance to accompany our new local sustainable transport fund. Both documents are available to colleagues in the Vote Office and have been placed in the Library of the House.

This Government’s vision is for a transport system that helps create growth in the economy, and tackles climate change by cutting our carbon emissions. The launch of the White Paper, and the associated local sustainable transport fund, represents a significant step towards meeting those two key Government objectives.

In both the Budget and the spending review, the Chancellor pledged to make the tough choices that will allow us to maintain investment in new and existing infrastructure to support a growing economy, while eliminating the structural deficit over the lifetime of the Parliament. The spending review reflected transport’s vital role in this. I am pleased that we were able to secure significant investment to allow us to go ahead with important transport initiatives. The investment we have committed to in rail, low-carbon vehicles and public and sustainable transport reflects the determination to secure growth while cutting carbon.

In the medium term, our transport decarbonisation strategy centres on the progressive electrification of the passenger car fleet, supported by policies to increase generation capacity and decarbonise the grid. By also prioritising spending on key rail projects such as high-speed rail and rail electrification, we will be providing travellers with attractive new options instead of the plane and the car.

In the immediate term, addressing shorter, local trips offers huge potential in helping to grow the economy and tackle climate change. Shorter trips are important— two thirds of all journeys are less than five miles. Walking, cycling and public transport are all real, greener alternatives for such trips. What is more, we know that people who travel to the shops on foot, by bicycle or by public transport can spend more per head than those who travel by car, and research shows that improvements to the public realm can increase turnover in the high street by 5% to 15%. Increased sustainable travel also helps tackle congestion, which is a drag on business causing excess delays in urban areas at a cost of around £11 billion per annum.

Let us not forget the further benefits that follow a shift to more sustainable transport—benefits to the air we breathe and to our levels of fitness, and the money in our pockets as well. Investment in sustainable transport helps make our towns and cities healthier and more attractive places to live, work and shop.

The White Paper sets out how we can encourage the uptake of more sustainable modes at local level, and the unprecedented £560 million we have allocated in our new local sustainable transport fund will support that. Our commitment to helping local authorities with this vital agenda is reaffirmed by the amount of money we are making available. The local sustainable transport fund forms part of a wider picture of more streamlined and simplified funding for local authorities. That will give local authorities more power and flexibility to meet local transport needs.

Across Government, we have demonstrated our commitment to ending top-down decision making and the tendency in Whitehall to develop one-size-fits-all solutions that ignore the specific needs and behaviour patterns of local communities. The Government have already taken significant steps to hand back power to local communities, including replacing regional development agencies with local enterprise partnerships, giving communities a much greater say over planning decisions and ending the top-down imposition of housing targets. Today’s White Paper is about extending the decentralisation of power to local transport and putting into context what that means for local authorities.

We are particularly keen to receive bids for the local sustainable transport fund from local authorities that are in partnership with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, and that have the support of local businesses. We believe that by encouraging bids in this way, we will be able to capture innovative solutions to local transport needs in all areas—rural and urban. An example I often cite is the Cuckmere community bus in my constituency. Individual residents in Cuckmere valley have come together to run regular and frequent bus services that take people in rural areas to their nearest towns. The services are provided entirely by volunteers. Wheels to Work schemes provide transport to people who are unable to access training, employment or education due to a lack of suitable public or private transport. The schemes can therefore particularly benefit people living in isolated rural communities, and they can play an important role in helping people to come off benefits and regain their independence. Those real examples are happening right now, and we want to enable similar stories to unfold in other areas across the country.

In addition, we recognise that some initiatives benefit from a single national approach. They include the provision of £11 million of funding for Bikeability cycle training next year to allow 275,000 10 to 11-year-olds to benefit from on-road cycle training. There is a commitment to support Bikeability for the duration of the Parliament, which will allow as many children as possible to undertake high-quality cycle training.

We will also improve end-to-end journeys by encouraging transport operators, and those involved in promoting cycling and car clubs or sharing, to work together to provide better information and integrate tickets and timetables. We are delivering with operators and public sector bodies the infrastructure to enable most local public transport journeys to be undertaken using smart ticketing by December 2014. We will work with the transport industry to support the development of e-purses and other technology related to smart ticketing, and we will support the infrastructure to make that happen. The way in which transport investment decisions are made will be reviewed to ensure that the carbon implications are fully recognised. Responsibility for local roads classification will be transferred to local authorities to give them the flexibility to determine the status of their roads. We will also be setting out in a strategic framework for road safety by spring 2011 how to ensure that Britain’s roads remain the world’s safest. Traffic signs policy will be modernised to provide more flexibility and reduced costs and bureaucracy for local authorities to enable them to develop innovative traffic management solutions.

We want to build a transport system that is an engine for economic growth, and also one that is greener—one that creates growth and cuts carbon. By improving the links that move goods and people around, by encouraging people to travel sustainably, and by targeting investment in new projects that promote green growth, we can help to build the balanced, dynamic low-carbon economy that is essential for our future prosperity. The White Paper and the associated local sustainable transport fund demonstrate our commitment to taking that agenda forward, and I commend them to the House.

I thank the Minister for forwarding me a copy of his statement earlier today. However, I am afraid that he has given us nothing more than a re-heated and re-packaged announcement to cover his embarrassment at the devastating impact that the speed and scale of his Government’s cuts is having on local transport throughout the country. Despite all his warm words about the importance of local transport, this Tory-led Government, of whom he is a hostage, are decimating bus services, putting rail travel out of the price range of many and crippling local government’s ability to deliver vital local transport improvements.

The hon. Gentleman talks of his “new” £560 million local sustainable transport fund, yet he knows full well that the fund, which he announced in the comprehensive spending review, is a sticking plaster over the gaping hole left by his massive 28% cut to local government transport spending. Will he confirm that while he is front-loading the cuts, he is providing only £30 million of capital spending and £50 million of revenue spending for the next financial year, which in effect means that local government transport was cut by £309 million this year, and he is giving back £80 million next year? It is no wonder that he told The Daily Telegraph:

“I don’t like George Osborne very much”.

For all the Under-Secretary’s good intentions and personal commitment to sustainable transport, is he not operating with one hand tied behind his back—doubtless tied there by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government? Now we know who he was talking about when he told The Daily Telegraph:

“I mean, there are Tories who are quite good and there are Tories who are, you know, beyond the pale, and, you know, you have to just deal with the cards you’ve got”.

The truth is that the Under-Secretary has had a bad hand to play—a Budget settlement that will mean a significant reversal of the improvements in sustainable local transport schemes that were made during Labour’s period in office.

Does the Under-Secretary have any idea about what is actually happening to public transport around the country as a result of his policies? Does he realise that the 20% cut to the bus service operator grant, combined with changes to the concessionary fares scheme, is having a devastating impact on local bus services? With fuel prices at record levels, does he understand the impact of cutting the fuel cost subsidy on enabling bus operators to sustain unprofitable services?

Has the hon. Gentleman seen today’s reports that councils throughout the country are withdrawing services? Half the subsidised services are being axed in Somerset; more than 70 rural services are being scrapped or reduced in Durham; nearly 30 services are threatened in North Yorkshire; and 60 are being reviewed in Suffolk, while Kent has warned that all unprofitable routes will be axed. Does he have any idea of the social consequences of those cuts?

Has the Under-Secretary seen this week’s report from the Association of Colleges, which shows that 94% of colleges believe that the combination of scrapping education maintenance allowance and cutting local transport means that students will be unable to get to college and therefore unable to complete their courses? It is all well and good the Government’s telling people to get on the bus to find work, but they have to be able to afford to do that, and the buses have to be there. The impact of the cuts will be especially felt by those who are out of work and looking for a job, two thirds of whom do not have a driving licence or access to a car.

Does the Under-Secretary agree that all his good intentions are undermined when he prices people off the roads and off local public transport? Is he aware that his Department’s figures show that, without the bus service operator grant, there could be a 6.5% increase in fares and consequently a 6.7% fall in bus usage? He should be aware of it, because he signed off the parliamentary answer that gave the figures.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that, by hiking rail fares by more than 30% across the spending review period, he is driving people off the railways and back on to the roads? [Interruption.] Instead of whispering in the Under-Secretary’s ear, the Secretary of State could have delivered the statement himself . Before the election, the Under-Secretary was going around the country, promising to cut rail fares. Now he is overseeing record increases. Does he understand that people will find his claims about investment in rail hollow at best when he has scaled back the planned electrification, cut the number of new carriages, and delayed the completion of major vital schemes, such as Thameslink and Crossrail? Does he accept that the consequence of hiking the costs of using public transport will force people back on to the roads, where they will be hit again by rising fuel prices, thanks to the increase in VAT on fuel to 20%? He is adding to the pressures faced by families who are already feeling the squeeze.

The Tory-led Government, of whom the Under-Secretary appears to be a frustrated and reluctant member, are reducing the amount of funding for local government transport schemes by more than a quarter. They claim to be green, to care about sustainability, to want to support public transport and to believe in localism, yet they give back with one hand to local communities today a fraction of what they have already taken away with the other. For all the warm words today and everything positive in the White Paper, we are seeing the localising not of transport decisions but of the blame for the Government’s cuts to local transport.

I am afraid that the hon. Lady was her usual churlish self. There was not a single practical suggestion on how we might improve sustainable transport, and not a single admission that the deficit has caused any of the problems with which we are dealing. If I may say so, having had plenty of experience in opposition, the skill of opposition is not to oppose everything indiscriminately, 100%; it is about making positive suggestions as well as identifying problems. I am afraid that she has to learn a bit about opposition, as well as about other matters, perhaps, to do with how her party operates. She ought to be taking fewer lessons from Tom Baldwin about what language to use, and should concentrate more on transport matters, rather than on spin, as still happens with the Opposition, it seems.

The fact of the matter is that £560 million is a very substantial sum to invest in this area. We did so because we were interested in creating growth and cutting carbon—two matters that appear to be of little interest to the hon. Lady, judging by her peroration. I looked at the figures for sustainable transport grants for 2010-11—money spent in the Labour Government’s last year on cycling, school travel, smart ticketing and so on. It came to £120 million for that year. Next year, 2012, we will spend £140 million on the local sustainable transport fund, and that will rise to £180 million by 2014-15.

I point out that the previous Government’s spending was characterised by wasting money on reports, tick-box exercises and setting targets that were never met. For example, £150 million was spent on the travelling to school initiative, and the final evaluation report, which I shall publish next week, shows it to be very poor value for money indeed, in terms of changing behaviour in any shape or form. Our approach is different: set a clear vision to empower local authorities, and provide them with the funds to get on with the job that they need to do.

As for the matters that the hon. Lady actually raised, if I can discern any in her diatribe, the bus service operators grant, to which she referred, is not being cut this year; it will be reduced from the following year, and the reduction is less than the average reduction in revenue budgets across Government. She will know that the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents most bus companies, said that it thought, by and large, that the reduction could be absorbed without fares having to rise. She also pays no attention to the fact that the vast majority of bus services are commercially driven, so what councils have or do not have is irrelevant to the majority of the bus network in this country.

The hon. Lady paid no attention to the very good initiatives taking place, some of which I referred to in my statement. An example is the Wheels to Work initiative, which is busy giving people the opportunity to get back into work on a lower-carbon means of transport, helping the economy to grow, helping people out of unemployment, and helping to reduce carbon emissions at the same time.

I am very sorry that the hon. Lady chose to be so negative when the proposals were put forward, because if she listens to some of her party’s Back Benchers, she might find that there are matters in the statement that are welcomed by Members in all sections of the House.

Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is a heavily subscribed Opposition day debate to follow, and there is therefore a premium on time, so brevity from Back Bencher and Front Bencher alike is essential if large numbers of colleagues are not to be disappointed.

I welcome the Minister’s statement, particularly the details of the local sustainable transport fund. Three Holme Valley councillors wrote to him last week, telling him that First Bus has recently cut local bus services in Holme Valley, leaving many people without much-needed rural bus transport. Will he meet those councillors, some local people and me to see how the announcement today can help to give them the services that they need in their local area?

I am grateful for that positive intervention from my hon. Friend, who recognises that working together—working with other Members of Parliament and with local councils—can help. Of course, I would be happy to meet him and his councillors.

I welcome the emphasis on sustainable local transport, but could the Minister explain how local needs will be met, as the fund partially replaces major cuts in local transport funding, where decisions are made locally, with centralised decision making in a competitive system?

The Government are entitled to set high-level strategy targets to help create growth and cut carbon, but beyond that we are making powers available to local councils to a greater extent than hitherto. For example, the Department for Transport operated 26 funding streams for transport under the previous Government; that has been reduced to four. In respect of the local sustainable transport fund, to which the hon. Lady refers, I can assure her that the assessment process will be very light touch, with a view to getting local authorities’ money out there as soon as possible to help with their plans. Provided that they can demonstrate that they will create growth and cut carbon, we will be happy with what they put forward.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating British companies such as Transport Design International, which designs cheap, green, popular, ultra-light trams. Does he, like me, regret that most of its designs are currently going overseas, and hope that some of the very welcome funds that he has announced today could be used to support innovative ultra-light tram systems at local level?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government support light rail. In the spending review we announced extensions to the schemes in Nottingham and the Midland Metro. We are always open to ideas that will benefit people by providing extra public transport and which reduce carbon emissions. With my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has responsibility for rail, we are discussing, for example, issues related to tram-trains. We are keen to take that agenda forward.

In Newcastle, bus transport is an essential and valued part of our economic infrastructure, but in the evening many services stop, leaving the vulnerable, particularly women, unable to use public transport at night and forcing many to use cars, which is unsustainable. The White Paper and the cuts to the subsidy for bus transport do nothing to address the issue. The Minister spoke about volunteers. Can he outline how he expects volunteers to play a role in giving Newcastle evening bus transport?

The hon. Lady raises a valid point about safety on buses and the accessibility of those bus services in the evening. Depending on the ingenuity of the local city council and others, it is perfectly possible that measures could be taken to improve that. For example, end-to-end journeys, joined-up transport, through-ticketing and the safety of bus stations could all, in theory, be eligible for grants under the fund, so I encourage her to talk to her local council and see whether she can come up with a scheme for submission.

Yesterday, I visited Menorah primary school in my constituency. Its green travel plan is being hampered by the lack of electric charging points. Can the Minister confirm that the local council could bid for transport fund moneys to introduce the infrastructure that would allow an expansion of electric charging points?

We are open to bids and we have no preconceptions about what those bids would include. Providing that they demonstrate that they create growth and cut carbon, we are open to suggestions. As the hon. Gentleman knows, under this Government the Secretary of State has been personally involved in moving on plug-in places. We see that as a key element of the future of transport in our country.

Public transport in this country remains more expensive than almost anywhere else in Europe, yet the service that people get is one of the worst. What would the Minister tell my constituents in Brighton, Pavilion who struggle daily with poor, expensive and crowded rail services?

I am familiar with Brighton, as the hon. Lady knows. I would say that the public transport system in her constituency is extremely good. Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company is one of the best bus companies in the country, and Southern has invested recently in new rolling stock and is one of the better train companies. The frequency of services will be further enhanced by the Thameslink programme and the Government are committed to 2,100 new railway carriages, so people in Brighton and on the south coast can have confidence that the public transport system is serving them well.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. It is timely for my constituency, as Milton Keynes council is consulting on local transport needs and priorities in the coming years. To ensure that that consultation is properly aligned with the new fund, will he say a little more about its time scale and the greater flexibility that local authorities will have?

The guidance for the bidding process has also been released today and is available to Members in the Vote Office. Essentially, there are two bidding rounds for smaller scale projects of up to £5 million and another bidding round for larger projects of up to £50 million. The objective is to make them as quick and as easy as possible, subject to securing value for money and making sure that the money can be released as a consequence of that. The shorter projects will be progressed more quickly than the larger projects, but the time scale has been made available as part of the guidance.

I was interested to hear in the statement about the funding for Bikeability, but members of British Cycling, like me, will want to know whether the Minister will take this opportunity to update the out-of-date transport regulations that are hampering the growth of the sport on the road.

I am happy to say that the Government are fully committed to cycling. It features in the coalition agreement and the hon. Gentleman will have noticed the reference to £11 million for Bikeability this year and a further guarantee for the rest of the Parliament, for example. In respect of the specific issue that the hon. Gentleman raises about racing on the road, I am happy to tell him that I had a meeting earlier this week with officials and key interested parties, and we are close to moving that forward to a satisfactory solution.

As the Minister knows, cycle and bus usage tends not to follow local government boundaries. Will the guidance in the scheme encourage cross-border bids, such as to turn the A380 between Newton Abbot and Torquay into a cycle-bus expressway once the Kingskerswell bypass has been built?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on managing to introduce his proposed bypass into the question. The answer to the question about the guidance is yes, it expressly allows councils to work together across boundaries. Indeed, it encourages them to do so.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. Has the Minister had an opportunity to discuss with his Liberal Democrat colleagues on Bristol city council the contribution that the Severn Beach railway line makes towards the sustainable local transport system? May I urge him to do all he can to work with them to ensure the survival of the Severn Beach line?

I am happy to tell the hon. Lady that I shall be in Bristol tomorrow, so I will have an opportunity to take that forward then.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. I welcome the focus on and the new funding for sustainable local transport that the Minister described. There is a particular issue of transport for people in rural areas, such as mine in Herefordshire. Will the Minister meet a delegation from Herefordshire to discuss this important local issue?

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I shall be happy to meet a delegation. We are conscious of the need to recognise the importance of rural areas. That is why the White Paper today and the associated guidance gives indications to rural counties in particular how they might be successful in the bidding process.

Order. I am grateful to the House, but I have probably had enough birthday wishes. I am very thankful.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to the reduction in carbon emissions. That is good news. In better weather conditions it would be more attractive to walk or to use a bicycle. The Minister outlined a number of incentives to draw people away from cars and encourage them to use alternative transport, but at a time when fuel prices are coming to their highest level and transport charges are rising and are set to rise again, is there not a balance to be struck between the carrot and the stick approach? Can he tell us how he proposes to get people out of cars and on to alternative transport?

I should make it plain that the local transport White Paper relates to England only, but it is reasonable to draw attention to that matter. One of the ways that we encourage use of public transport is making it more attractive by making it safer and more convenient. We are doing a lot of work, for example, on through-ticketing and on smart ticketing, as all the evidence suggests that if people have confidence that they can leave their front door and arrive at their destination without worrying about the last two miles, they are more likely to use public transport for the majority of the journey. A great deal of work is being done on that. Making public transport attractive is a key to achieving modal shift.

What an excellent way for you to remember this special day, Mr Speaker, by calling me to ask a question.

I commend the Minister for the statement. In my constituency, we have two schemes that are before the Department. As far as I can see, they are entirely compatible with creating growth and cutting carbon through their benefits to the local economy and taking people off the roads. Those are the Croxley rail link project and the Watford junction project. May we have a decision on them as soon as possible? I hope that my hon. Friend will be favourably inclined to grant them.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on managing to link that to the statement. I can assure him that the matters to which he refers are under active consideration. A timetable has been published and we will shortly be able to give him and others in the House detailed information about the decisions to be taken.

Has the Minister had time to look at the Blyth and Tyne rail link that runs through my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery)? The line is used principally by Alcan and for coal. It is a shame that it is not used for transport in our area of south-east Northumberland. Will the Minister look into that?

We are always happy to look at potential public transport improvements. I am not familiar with that line myself, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of State who has responsibility for rail is sitting next to me and has carefully noted the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

Penblwydd hapus, Mr. Speaker.

I am sure that when the Minister visits Bristol tomorrow he will receive a warm welcome from people from all parties. If he is travelling by train to Bristol Temple Meads, he may be disturbed by the cost of the bus service into the city. Does he agree that to address the huge potential for shorter journeys that he mentions in his statement we need seriously to address the cost of a single bus journey from a main railway station?

I absolutely agree with that. From memory, the train company that operates in Bristol is the same one that operates the bus service, and it is in the commercial interests of FirstGroup to ensure that the bus is attractively priced to encourage a through journey by rail and bus, rather than encouraging people to drive the whole way, which may be the consequence of that particular pricing policy.

One issue that neither the Government nor the Mayor of London’s office can continue to ignore is the daily congestion at the Blackwall tunnel and the need for a third crossing to relieve that congestion. If there is the slightest incident, the whole of east London and south-east London comes to a standstill. Will the Minister ensure that in every future discussion between the Mayor’s office and his Department, that issue is on the agenda, because we cannot continue with this logjam in our capital city?

I understand that additional capacity is being considered by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that London falls outside the White Paper’s remit.

May I join the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) in recommending the expressway along Kingskerswell for a bus and cycle route? I welcome the local sustainable transport fund. Will the Minister meet a delegation from Littlehempston and Totnes, to consider not just how funding is crucial in advancing cycling schemes, but also some of the unnecessary roadblocks that such schemes come up against?

It is often the roadblocks, as my hon. Friend puts it, the pinch points, that cause disruption to the transport system, congestion and unnecessary carbon emissions. It is certainly important to deal with such issues, and the fund that I am announcing today is well designed to do that. Of course, I will be happy to meet her and her colleagues.

Will the Minister be a little more specific and say in what way his policy will improve bus services in Greater Manchester and make them more responsive to my constituents’ needs?

This is not a top-down approach. We are setting high-level targets for local authorities to create growth and cut carbon, and we are leaving it to them to come up with the solutions that fit their patch. The answer for Manchester will be very different from the answer for Bristol, so it is not for me or other Ministers to say what is best for Manchester. Our job is to set the vision and to provide the money and let local councils get on with it. If Manchester wants to come up with something that helps bus services in that way, it is welcome to do so.

I, too, welcome the statement. One of the key elements to encouraging economic growth in York is cutting traffic congestion, and the Minister recently visited York to look at the park and ride sites across the city. Will he outline in further detail how the new fund will encourage such projects?

It certainly can encourage such projects. As I said in my previous answer, it is up to the local council to come up with a scheme that meets those objectives. I very much hope that my hon. Friend will pursue those objectives, which seem quite sensible, with the local council, and suggest that it submits a bid.

As the Minister will know, three times as much money is spent on public transport in the south as in the north. Will this programme do anything to redress that balance?

Obviously, the population of the south is different from that in the north, which is one factor in question. We are keen to ensure that we achieve the two targets of creating growth and cutting carbon, and we also recognise that there are particular areas where unemployment is a problem, which we are keen to help as far as possible, so we will bear those factors in mind when bids come in. We certainly want to see a reasonable balance to the money that is distributed.

My hon. Friend has already agreed to visit the High Peak to discuss the Mottram-Tintwistle bypass—a visit that we are all looking forward to with great anticipation. While in the High Peak, will he meet officials from our local authorities to discuss the best way in which they can take advantage of the new local sustainable transport fund?

I welcome the commitment to continue funding cycle training for young people, but one of the things that puts families and children off cycling is the lack of cycle routes, both on-road and off-road, that are properly safeguarded. Will the Minister consider prioritising that from central funding to ensure that the training leads to actual cycling?

It is certainly true that in this country 43% of people have a bicycle and only 2% of journeys are made by bike, which suggests that there are bars to people cycling which they wish to overcome, having bought the bicycle in the first place. People often feel safer off-road than they do on-road, so the creation of cycle paths can be particularly useful. I am thinking of safe routes to school in particular, and I hope that local authorities will want to consider such schemes when submitting bids to the Department. As well as the money for Bikeability for this year, in 2011-12 we are also providing £30 million from the centre for links to schools, for bike club, bike it, and walking to school initiatives.

What impact, if any, does today’s announcement have on the development of small-scale rail extensions, such as the Burscough curves? We have hoped for very little and got very little.

The fund is not designed to reinstate railway schemes, because they are of a size and nature that it could not sustain. As I said earlier, we are keen to see what we can do to improve and enhance the rail network, where it makes commercial sense to do so. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has noted the point made.

School traffic enhances peak-time congestion during term time. The United States seems to run a successful yellow school bus scheme. Why cannot we have something similar here?

I am advised that the Secretary of State’s constituency has a yellow bus scheme, which perhaps he has been helpful in introducing. The school run is certainly one of the major reasons for congestion and delays in the morning, and it is an important point to look at. That could in theory be something that the fund that I have announced today could address, but I am not against having a further look at the yellow bus scheme on a national basis—although these matters are best decided locally, as my hon. Friend would accept.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent statement, which contains many good things. Issues such as local powers over signage, for which I have campaigned for many years, the funding for Bikeability and a real valuation of carbon are much to be welcomed. Will he do any more to encourage councils to really make it easier for people to cycle to work, either by providing infrastructure, or by providing extra information such as the CycleStreets website set up by my constituents.

We are doing more to make information on cycle routes available on the Transport Direct journey planner. That is now being rolled out across the country, giving information on a progressive basis, to make that available to people who want to cycle safely and are not necessarily familiar with the routes. It is plain from the guidance that one way of cutting carbon and creating growth is to invest in cycling, so I hope that local councils will bear that in mind when submitting bids.

Thamesdown Transport bus company in my constituency runs an excellent service, but does the Minister agree that local bus companies need to do more localised, estate by estate marketing, to explain the benefits and services on offer?

I certainly agree that some bus companies are better at drumming up business for themselves than others. We have some excellent bus companies around the country, including the one I mentioned earlier in response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company. Other bus companies do not do so well, but frankly, they are missing a trick in not capitalising on the market that is there for them.

The local Little Red Bus company provides vital community bus services across North Yorkshire. May I press the Minister a little further on how the fund will be targeted on the most rural areas of our country?

It is up to local councils to decide which bids they submit and what is included in those bids. The pattern of bus services varies considerably across the country, and I believe that I am right in saying that North Yorkshire has been subject to some cuts which have not been undertaken elsewhere, which suggests that the council has made that decision itself. We have also recently amended the Department’s guidance on concessionary fares to reflect the importance of rural routes and long-distance routes in rural areas, and that should help bus companies as well.

I welcome the Minister’s statement. London’s future depends very much on sustainable low-carbon travel. Back on the subject of bikes, although I realise that is a devolved matter, there is much to be learned from the Mayor of London’s popular cycle hire scheme, and I hope that the Minister is working with that team to make sure those lessons can be passed on to other towns and cities that might want to go down a similar path.

I very much welcome the innovation in London with the cycle hire scheme. Being based in a capital city, that scheme now has some traction and coverage elsewhere in the country, and I very much hope that other towns and cities will feel that it is worth emulating.

I sincerely hope that in due course the coalition Government will be able to reinstate some of the tram and light railway schemes that were axed by the previous utopian Labour Government, and perhaps add a few new ones. They are quite commonplace on the continent. I welcome the Minister’s statement, particularly the coalition Government’s commitment to support Bikeability cycle training for the duration of this Parliament. With that in mind, would he like to come to cycle town Colchester to see how cycling is being promoted?

I shall be happy to attend the event in Colchester to which the hon. Gentleman refers after I have been to Mottram and Tintwistle and everywhere else I am going in the High Peak area in the near future. On light rail, we have already committed to enhancements and extensions to the tram light rail system in the Midland Metro area and in Nottingham, despite the difficult financial situation that we inherited from the party now in opposition. My hon. Friend will also be interested to know that I have initiated a review of light rail costs, which is one of the first things I did upon my appointment, and it is due to report soon. The objective is to get the costs of light rail down so that we can have more light rail in future.

I must thank the Minister and all colleagues, whose succinctness enabled everyone who wanted to take part to have the chance to do so.