Today, I will be joining the great northern conference. I will not only reinforce the Government’s belief in the northern powerhouse, but announce further funding to allow trams to continue to operate, helping people to get to work and NHS staff to get to hospitals. That will go to local authorities and operators in Sheffield, Tyne and Wear, Manchester and Blackpool, which will be among those that will share £35.4 million, which I am announcing today, over the next 12 weeks to keep those essential services running.
The Government’s 2019 road safety statement once again recognised the evidence that
“restrictions on new novice drivers’ post-test driving, have proved very effective at improving the safety of young drivers.”
The Government promised to commission research to explore the social and economic consequences of introducing a graduated driving licence. Baroness Vere told the Transport Committee that the Government have abandoned work. What does that say about the commitment of the Government to tackling the tragic and avoidable road crashes that claimed the lives of 99 young drivers in 2018?
The hon. Lady, who is the former Chair of the Transport Committee, is absolutely right about the number of incidents that take place among young drivers. Let me just declare an interest: I have children who have both started to learn to drive and are about to start to drive. There is a decision for society to make as to whether it wishes to restrict the ability of young people to be able to drive their cars after, for example, 10 o’clock at night to drive back from a library or to be able to work, because graduated driving licences would restrict those rights—I see the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) asking about this. She is right to say that we have looked very carefully at this issue and come to the conclusion that there are other ways, through things such as black boxes in cars, that will provide safety without restricting freedom.
Transport operators have been devastated by covid, and it will take some time for them to recover to strength. The Government have stepped in to underwrite all the revenue risk of rail franchise operators, despite shareholder dividends being in the region of £1.7 billion since 2011. There was a sense that we needed to keep rail going, and that that was the right intervention, but the Government have gone further, paying out operators’ profits on top of that, with even more to come. Yet here in the nation’s capital, our essential transport workers, who are working hard to keep the city going, are routinely deployed to attack the Mayor of London. Why are the Government content to underwrite all revenue risk and bail out foreign Government shareholders, but not back the people of this country?
Whether it is Sadiq Khan in London or Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, the Government are systematically drawing political fire at those who dare to speak out. Let us be very clear: it was the Prime Minister, when he left City Hall, who handed back the subsidy and left a £1.1 billion deficit, and it was Sadiq Khan who reduced it by 71%. Will the Government right this wrong and match the intervention for rail franchises across all operations, including TfL, or have they gone from the poll tax to the polling day tax, where they deliberately seek out anybody who dares to vote for a Labour Mayor?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that other countries certainly have more PSOs. Actually, the European Commission’s website suggests that France’s has 37 PSOs—but none the less, significantly more than this country. We are looking at all this through the regional airport review, and I know that the PSO route from Newquay has been extremely important.
First of all, the negotiations are still ongoing, so we need to await their outcome. Secondly, there is nowhere else in the country that gets more concessions than London; constituents in my part of the world and the constituencies of other Members in this House will not be enjoying the same concessions that are available to London. But, as I say, we will need to await the outcome of these discussions.
The Government are committed to creating a high-quality route along the A303—this is the second time it has been mentioned this morning—and the A358 from the A3 to the M5. This will be the south-west strategic route. I very much thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to this route, but consequently the Government have no plans to dual the alternative A303/A30 route between Ilminster and Honiton.
The hon. Gentleman may know that we recently launched the Union connectivity review, led by Sir Peter Hendy; we look forward to hearing what he says. The hon. Gentleman may also know that this Government at least are very keen to connect all four parts of the Union together as best as we possibly can, and will look at any good ideas to get that job done.
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, who is a champion of levelling up for her area. I am aware of these proposals. As with other rail freight terminals, we expect the private sector to bring them forward, but we are working together closely on improving connectivity in Hyndburn.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight our focus on encouraging active travel through a huge investment in cycling and walking that has been welcomed by communities up and down the country. However, we are aware of some schemes, such as the ones he highlights, where better consultation with local communities and businesses would have resulted in better schemes. Local communities should be consulted fully before schemes are implemented.
When it comes to playing politics with these issues, I think we can hear where it is all coming from. The simple fact is that we have already funded £1.6 billion, and we are talking to the Mayor about another large injection of money. I will do this, politics aside, to make sure that we get the best deal for Londoners.
The residents of my hon. Friend’s constituency are lucky to have such a dedicated champion. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has recently requested a review of the land and property acquisition process to ensure that people along the route are supported, fairly compensated, and treated with compassion, dignity and respect.
The Government have increased funding to subsidised bus services in the hon. Lady’s constituency throughout the pandemic, but more than that, we are publishing a national bus strategy to address all these issues. We want to see bus services improved across the country.