In the 2016-17 financial year, the Department spent almost £3.5 million on supporting the community transport sector through the bus services operators’ grant, and since January 2013 it has devolved approximately £2.9 million of that grant to support local councils’ community transport services. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Department is currently consulting on changes to the law and guidance on the use of section 19 and section 22 permits. The consultation closes on 4 May.
The Minister will know that the changes on which he is consulting pose a real threat to the future of some operators. What more can he do to protect the existing use of permits rather than require what are generally small local charities to move to the full commercial status of the operator licence?
As colleagues will know, I have spent a lot of time working with the bodies responsible for the sector and visiting local community transport organisations. I take my hat off to them for the astonishing work that they do, which is, in a way, a form of social care as much as a form of transport, if not more so. Our consultation document, which I am sure my hon. Friend will have read, lays out three potential exemptions: derogations from commercial operators in favour of community transport operators, showing that there is in fact no competition in specific cases; a potential distance exemption of 15 miles from a particular hub; and the separation of commercial and non-commercial activities. We expect them to receive a lot of comments. I am not aware of a direct threat to any operators in particular, but we very much seek their feedback.
Notwithstanding what the Minister said about the hat—he talked about taking his hat off—I would not have thought he would want to do so in the present weather, as a protective function.
Many community transport operators use diesel vehicles, so what representations have the UK Government made to the German Government to hold Volkswagen to account for its emissions scandal?
It is the Rhondda valley by proxy. We continue to press the German Government hard on the issue and regard the behaviour of Volkswagen as unacceptable. We are greatly improving the emissions regime, toughening up the testing regime and taking active steps to penalise the use of defeat devices.