HC Deb 22 December 1971 vol 828 cc1489-90
5. Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his policy towards the provision of public funds for bus services in North-East Scotland.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Under Section 34 of the Transport Act, 1968, Government grant at the rate of 50 per cent. is available to local authorities which incur expenditure for the provision, improvement or continuance of rural bus services. In addition the local authorities' share of the cost is taken into account in the calculation of rate support grant. Aberdeen County Council has taken an initiative, which we welcome, to work out a mutually satisfactory arrangement between the local authorities and the major bus operator in the North-East for the maintenance of essential rural bus services throughout the area.

Lieut.-Colonel Mitchell

Does my hon. Friend agree that the major operators regard these as services which are bound to run at a loss, so that in the end it becomes a question of whether this is another factor which is speeding rural depopulation?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I appreciate my hon. and gallant Friend's concern over this matter. It is significant that the services that have been proposed for assistance number 27 uneconomic routes at a cost of £148,000 a year. This indicates the concern of the local authority in the area to be of help in this matter.

Mr. Carmichael

While agreeing that the provisions of the Transport Act, 1968, were far reaching, may I ask the Minister to agree that things have changed radically even in the last three years and that the rate of depopulation of rural areas is speeding up? Will he consider with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the possibility of reviewing the balance between local authority and national cost—in other words, increase the national grant for some services in view of the big burden that falls on some local authorities?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I appreciate the departmental involvement he had in this subject in the Labour Government. If he studies my reply he will see that the extent of Government financial assistance is quite large.