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Local Bus Services

Volume 540: debated on Thursday 23 February 2012

8. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of changes in funding for local bus services on staying-on rates in education for 16 and 17-year-olds. (95955)

I have made no specific assessment. It is for local decision makers to assess the impact of their decisions, consulting with their communities. Local authorities are required to include arrangements for transport provision and charges for 16 to 19-year-olds in full-time education in local transport policies. The Department for Education is also providing a £180 million bursary fund to support 16 to 19-year-olds who are experiencing real financial barriers to participating in education.

Abby Hilton, a young constituent of mine, came to me last week and told of me her concern that her younger sister cannot follow in her footsteps to Winstanley college due to the rise in bus fares and the loss of education maintenance allowance. What assessment has been done of the cumulative impact of those two policies?

I have been in regular contact with my colleagues at the Department for Education and the Confederation of Passenger Transport for some months now. Local members of the Youth Parliament in East Sussex have been to make a presentation to the Bus Partnership Forum, which I chair, and I have indicated to the CPT the need to work with the Department to address the issue.

Does the Minister agree that forward-thinking principals of further education colleges are using their bursaries to think of innovative community transport-based solutions, to ensure that young people who find that their bus service has disappeared can still get to college safely, securely and cheaply and continue their education?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is certainly a role for community transport, which is why we have provided an extra £20 million over the past few months for investment in it. We have also encouraged the bus companies themselves to recognise that there is a potential future market in the age group in question.

Earlier this month, Barnardo’s revealed research showing the hardship experienced by young people trying to stay on in education. Its chief executive, Anne Marie Carrie, said that it was

“an absolute disgrace that some students are now being forced to skip meals in order to afford the bus to college.”

Bus companies tell us that, as a result of the Minister’s cuts to the bus service operators grant, they cannot afford to offer a concessionary fare scheme for those students. Will he now review the decision to cut BSOG, to provide affordable transport for those young people?

It is fair to say that the previous Government’s research showed that only one in 10 young people receiving EMA said that it was the deciding factor—

I do not know that it is rubbish; it is Labour’s research that I am referring to.

On the issue of moving forward on concessionary fares, I do not know whether the Labour party is pledging a new spending commitment, but its own research shows that £740 million would be required for the concession that it is advocating—a few days after the shadow Secretary of State announced that she would have a more responsible attitude to finance. [Interruption.]

Order. Before I call Dr Huppert, I say to the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) that it is not very good form to heckle, but to heckle when sitting in the Chamber fiddling with a BlackBerry is just rank discourteous. It is so blindingly obvious.

Liberal Democrat councillors on Cambridgeshire county council have proposed a fully funded scheme that would provide free public transport for 16 to 19-year-olds who are seeking education, employment or training. Would the Minister support such a scheme and encourage Cambridgeshire and other councils to look carefully at such ideas?

I certainly would support such a scheme and I welcome that initiative. The reality is that some councils provide support for young people to get to education better than other councils provide it. The matter is largely one for local authorities. Good practice is out there and should be replicated wherever possible.