11. What recent discussions he has had with his Department's quality contract board. (905613)
It is for the senior traffic commissioner to make arrangements for the constitution of a quality contract scheme board. No discussions have taken place between the Department and a quality contract scheme board, but I understand that the North East combined authority considered it on 21 October, and has decided to refer its draft quality contract scheme to the QCS board.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer; as he indicates, discussions now need to take place. In Tyne and Wear this week we took a major step forward when the North East combined authority unanimously agreed to press ahead with plans for a quality contract scheme in the north-east. Will the Minister now respect the will of the people and ensure that the quality contract board has all the resources it needs to arrive at a speedy conclusion?
The Government are committed to localism and to local people making decisions about their local services. Whether to adopt a London-style quality contract scheme is a matter for individual local authorities to determine. This is an independent process, with the scheme examined by the QCS board and chaired by a traffic commissioner. It would be inappropriate for the Government to comment or intervene, but if there are issues to do with resources for that board, we would be keen to consider them.
Large infrastructure transport projects such as HS2 and Crossrail are all very well, and quality bus contracts may help in areas such as Tyne and Wear, but when will the Government do something—anything—for rural areas that have no buses at all, or no buses at weekends and at night?
Representing a rural area, I am well aware of the problems of pensioners with concessionary travel passes but no buses to use them on when, in some cases, evening or weekend services have been withdrawn. The Government are contributing more than 40% of the farebox through subsidies to buses in various ways, and we are committed to improving local bus services wherever we can, working in conjunction with local authorities.