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Covid-19: Bus Routes

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 2 July 2020

What steps he is taking to support commercial bus routes that are in service during the covid-19 outbreak. (904121)

The Government are providing significant funding for the bus industry at this time. Our covid-19 funding package for England’s buses totals £651 million. The Government provide £43 million annually to local authorities for supporting socially necessary services, plus £30 million of additional funding in 2021 to support, improve or restore services. Ministers and officials meet regularly with key stakeholders, including local transport authorities and operators to discuss a wide range of matters.

The Government’s public messaging to discourage the non-essential use of buses, and of open-access trains for that matter, is deeply damaging commercial routes that rely on public fares to remain viable. Will the Minister commit to reviewing that message and to safeguarding those commercial routes, such as the rural bus routes in my constituency of West Dorset?

My hon. Friend is right. We obviously keep all measures under review at all times, but our priority is always to keep the public safe. Thanks to the support that the Government have put into the bus industry, the vast majority of bus services in England are currently running.

My hon. Friend failed to respond to the question about coach operators, which rather indicates that, as the coach industry feels, the Government regard them with contempt. Will she now tell us when there is going to be a meeting, and a response to the request first made by the coach industry more than two months ago and repeated in a letter signed by 550 coach operators to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? When are the Government going to do something to help our coach industry?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government take the concerns of the coach industry incredibly seriously, recognising the key part it plays in the tourism industry. That is why it has been able to access £330 billion of Government support, along with all parts of our economy. We are working extremely hard to get tourism up and running, and the coach industry will benefit from that.

A number of bus routes in my local towns, including Brixham and Dartmouth, have been cancelled or reduced in the past few weeks, which is, obviously, a massive disservice to the residents. The Government have announced a supreme package of support for our bus networks, with grants and the forthcoming review. I urge them to put a long-term strategy planning mechanism in place to allow bus companies to plan their future for many months to come.

The Government absolutely recognise the crucial role bus services play in rural communities, such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, up and down the country. That is why we are providing a five-year, £5 billion funding package for buses and cycling. That will include a £20 million demand-responsive transport scheme. We are also bringing forward a national bus strategy to address exactly these concerns about rural services, which play a vital role.

I wish to start by paying tribute to our bus workers for keeping a vital public service running, in rural areas and across the country, during the coronavirus crisis. Bus drivers and other transport workers have made a very significant contribution—indeed, a number of drivers have died in the epidemic. We owe all these key workers a huge debt of gratitude for their service at this difficult time. As a sign of the Government’s support for our bus services, will the Minister now commit to properly funding buses, both in the next few months and in the longer term? Will she also offer financial support to the families of the staff who have died, to bring this in line with financial support for NHS and care workers?

I join the hon. Gentleman in the comments he has made, and Conservative Members, too, pay our tribute to those key workers—those bus workers—who have played a vital part in keeping goods, services and passengers moving around the country. We want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their service. We work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that they are kept safe throughout the pandemic. As bus services start to recover, we are working closely on a bus recovery and restart package, as well as the £5 billion we have pledged to put in to keep bus services on a sustainable footing for the long term.