In the first Transport questions since the beginning of the year, the Year of Engineering, I would like to put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) for all the work that they have done.
The Government want to protect as many community transport services as possible. We will soon be consulting on the issuance and use of permits, and have been working to interpret the scope of the exemptions to the regulations as widely as the law will allow.
I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware that the proposal is estimated to cost the industry £37 million and each driver £1,500. It rather seems like the Government have taken a sledgehammer to crack a nut. What does the Minister say to Shotts’ Getting Better Together in my constituency, which provides essential community transport services, yet has no interest in being a commercial entity and could be lost to the community under these plans?
I do not recognise the description that the hon. Gentleman gives. I have been up and down the country talking to community transport schemes. It is not at all clear that the implication for local community transport operators will be anything like as severe as has been suggested, and the one case that has been tested has been referred back for further evidence gathering.
I am grateful to the Minister for recently visiting my constituency, where he saw the great work being done by Our Bus Bartons. He will know that such companies all over the country are urgently seeking reassurance, but can he clarify whether any action proposed by the transport commissioner reflects upon the consultation that is taking place, or whether the consultation will be taking place in any event?
I welcome the Minister to his appointment. While I understand that the Government have said that they are not going to end the sections 19 and 22 arrangements, the letter they sent out in July last year has caused what the Select Committee on Transport has described as paralysis in the not-for-profit sector. Do we not now need clarity from the Government about what they intend to do, so that they can demonstrate real support for the community transport sector, including for firms such as Shencare in my constituency?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my job. I have actually been in it for a while, so I am sorry not to have made more impact on him, if not on the sector. In that regard, he will have seen—I am sure he has noted it carefully—the testimony that I and one of my officials gave to the Transport Committee, which put to rest the question of whether the letter was inappropriate or had caused difficulty. There certainly has been concern, and rightly so: it is a reinterpretation of the law. Some people may not be compliant, that is true, but the vast majority will be, and we expect the consultation to be successful in further allaying concerns.
North Norfolk Community Transport says that at the moment it is unable to get new section 19 permits because it has bid for some of its services competitively, but those services are cross-subsidising vital community services and it is doing exactly what the county council urged it to do. These vital services could go under unless that uncertainty ends, so can the Minister give some reassurance urgently?