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Community Transport Operators

Volume 663: debated on Thursday 18 July 2019

Community transport is incredibly important for both urban and rural communities, and in March the Department took steps to protect community transport operators so that they can carry on doing their valuable work. We have clarified, in guidance, the scope of two exemptions from the EU regulation on operator licensing, and we have enacted new legislation. We will revise the guidance on the non-commercial exemption once the High Court has reached a decision and will carry out a review of the domestic permit regime later in 2019.

I thank the Minister for her answer. She is right: the service is very valuable. In parts of Bristol South, 40% of people do not own a car or van, so public transport is crucial to getting about in daily life. Will she join me in congratulating Bristol Community Transport on running the M1 metrobus service this year? Does she agree that local authorities need more funding to support bus services, particularly in communities where there are low incomes and older people?

I am more than happy to celebrate the work of Bristol Community Transport; Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership, which is in or close to the hon. Lady’s constituency, also does incredibly good work. We have done everything we can in the Department to be as flexible as possible, so that those with community transport contracts in constituencies can carry on doing their work. We provide substantial financial support for all public transport, but of course I will always aim to secure even more funding, including in the next spending review.

Community transport in Essex would benefit from investment in Essex’s roads, and particularly from the dualling of the A120 and the widening of A12. Will the Minister work with the Department to ensure that both those schemes feature in the road investment strategy 2?

That is a fantastic question. My right hon. Friend has captured my imagination, and that of the Roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis). I believe that the schemes are in the pipeline, and if I cannot meet my right hon. Friend, no doubt the Roads Minister will, to make sure that the schemes are carried forward.

Over 90% of community transport operators in Scotland use section 19 or section 22 permits, but changes to legislation will lead to onerous conditions regarding driver qualifications and bus adaptations, and that threatens the existence of these important service providers. Coalfield Community Transport in my constituency believes that the measures will give them up-front costs of £50,000. Does the Minister accept how real these risks are, and will she meet me to discuss the issue and changes that could be made?

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, because I am concerned about the cases that he has raised. I am also concerned that information is not filtering through, and that is creating panic among community transport operators that need not be felt. We have spent a lot of time working with community transport operators and local authorities; I have a list in front of me of everyone to whom we have spoken. Operators can also go on the community transport website, which has further clarification of what needs to be done. If they hold a licence at present, they are eligible to carry on doing their work.

Does the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) want to make a second inquiry? No? I do not want to tempt him beyond his natural appetite. I had him down for two questions, but we are grateful for his self-denying ordinance. In that case, we probably just about have time to include Mr Farron.

In places such as Sedbergh and Dent, community bus services have become a lifeline for people who would otherwise be isolated from the communities around them, and I am massively grateful to the volunteers who make those services possible. Community bus services have become essential because over the past 30 years Governments of all colours have chosen to stop seeing the provision of bus services as a service at all and have allowed rural communities such as mine to become increasingly cut off and stranded. Will the Minister agree to launch a new transport deal for rural communities, with new investment for bus services that are regular, reliable and affordable?

The hon. Gentleman has mixed up two distinct types of services: community transport, and regular bus services. Over £1 billion is spent on concessionary travel, and over £250 million directly on bus service operators grant. If he wants to sit down with me and get further ideas on how his local authority can secure a partnership, I am more than happy to do that.