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Bus Services

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 13 October 2022

6. What steps her Department is taking to help maintain the provision of bus services in all parts of the UK. (901609)

8. What steps her Department is taking to help maintain the provision of bus services in all parts of the UK (901612)

The Government have provided nearly £2 billion of support since March 2020 through emergency and recovery grants to ensure that our bus sector survived throughout the pandemic. That is on top of the £1 billion of transformation funding that will make our bus services faster, more reliable and cheaper across much of England.

I thank the whole House for the very kind comments about Southend’s greatest ever champion: Sir David Amess, my predecessor. They will be much appreciated by everyone in Southend West as we remember Sir David on Saturday.

Southend, and indeed the whole of Essex, did not benefit at all from the Government’s bus service improvement plan earlier this year, so what steps are the Government taking to ensure that new cities such as Southend can bus back better? Will the Minister assure me that those areas that missed out last time will be at the top of the list for funding in future schemes?

My thoughts are with Sir David Amess’s family today. I am grateful that my hon. Friend has mentioned him.

My hon. Friend is a very keen champion for her area. I am aware that her area was not successful in the funding round that she mentions, but I am pleased that Essex County Council and Southend-on-Sea City Council have been awarded some funds to maintain bus services, with totals of £1.5 million and £330,000 respectively to support the development and delivery of their bus service improvement plans and enhanced partnerships. That is in addition to their bus recovery grant allocation and the practical support on offer, which includes guidance and training to ensure eligibility for any further BSIP funding.

Will the Minister acknowledge that there are sometimes problems with important transport links that run between destinations in different transport authority areas? Will she seek to address that, and will she talk to Hertfordshire County Council and Transport for London about restoring the 84 bus route between Chipping Barnet, Hadley and Potters Bar?

My right hon. Friend has made an important point, because, of course, transport crosses corridors. As she will know, transport in London is devolved to the Mayor of London, and the Government have agreed with Transport for London a £1.2 billion multi-year settlement to secure the long-term future of London’s transport network, including bus services. Where bus-tender routes operate across transport authority boundaries, we expect the local transport authorities involved to work closely with bus operators.

David Amess was a parliamentary mate. He was a proper parliamentarian. We miss him dreadfully. He would not like me to call him a mate, mind, but it is the truth.

Is the Minister aware that hydrogen-powered buses are widely available? I think there are already 16 on the streets of Belfast—I should have been speaking at a sustainability conference in Belfast today—but hydrogen-powered heavy goods vehicles and trucks, including waste trucks, are also available. When will local authorities have proper subsidies to enable them to get those hydrogen-powered buses and trucks on the road, now?

The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we have a wide variety of energy sources for our transport system. The hon. Gentleman will know that only last week the Secretary of State announced £24 million for Teesside to expand its hydrogen works. I am aware of the hydrogen-powered buses; significant Government funds are available for them, for electric buses, and for various other mechanisms.

Workers in Angus, from Kirriemuir to Arbroath and from Montrose to Brechin, are stuck because of the lack of buses, itself due to a lack of drivers. They are going cap in hand to their employers to explain why they are late for work, and they are having to take taxis home because the bus had never turned up. I have canvassed a good many colleagues in this place, and I know that this is not a Scottish issue—it extends across the British Isles—so I ask the Minister please not to remind me that transport is devolved. This is a UK issue requiring UK intervention, with training for drivers and support for operators.

I am sorry, but I will remind the hon. Gentleman that transport is devolved. If there are issues in Scotland, he knows where to address those points. However, I also remind him that we have invested nearly £2 billion in buses over the pandemic, in addition to the £1 billion invested to ensure that our buses become more reliable and cheaper throughout the country.

Since covid, commuter bus routes from Hemel Hempstead into London have been cut. The reason for that is lack of demand, because people are working from home and there is no encouragement for them to come back into London. We observe that dangerous development when we drive into London each day and see that there is less and less traffic. Is there no way in which the Department can encourage people to have the confidence to come back into London so that we can put on these buses again from Hemel Hempstead?

The Government have broadly welcomed people back to work—my right hon. Friend will know that we are encouraging civil servants to come back to work and leading by example here in Parliament—and we do encourage people into our towns and cities: as he will also know, we recently spent £60 million on introducing a £2 fare cap for single tickets on most bus services in England outside London between January and March to encourage travel across the country.

The Minister will not necessarily know what the 8, 27 and 655 bus routes in my constituency have in common. The answer is that they have all been cut completely, or substantially reduced, in the last few weeks. That means that NHS workers cannot travel to their shifts, pensioners cannot travel to the Crystal Peaks shopping centre, and kids cannot travel to and from school. Will the Minister reflect on the fact that the previous Prime Minister told us that people would not need a timetable, because the service would be so good that they could just walk to the bus stop and get on a bus? They do not need a timetable for many routes now, because there are no buses running.

Will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, agree to meet the Mayor and Members of Parliament for South Yorkshire to discuss the cuts, and how additional Government funding could save these essential services?

I will, of course, pass on the hon. Gentleman’s request to the Minister responsible for buses, Baroness Vere. I am sure that she will consider it. I point out that the South Yorkshire mayoral combined authority received £1.6 million from the local transport authority recovery funding from April to December this year.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the new Transport Minister’s own area of Cambridgeshire, dozens of crucial bus services, including school routes, will be slashed imminently. Can the Minister explain why they think it is fair that communities in Cambridgeshire and many others across the country did not receive a penny to improve bus services after a £2 billion cut to the bus back better strategy, while the same Government will this year hand over billions of pounds of tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations? Is it not the truth that under this Government bankers are being put before buses and the services that millions rely on?

The hon. Member makes an important point about buses more broadly and in the Cambridgeshire region. I reiterate that the Government have invested £3 billion in buses, and Stagecoach East is getting £427,000 every month to support bus services. Government considered the bids as they were put forward by the Mayor, and I know the Mayor is considering very carefully how he can resolve this issue in Cambridgeshire.