§ 10. Mrs. Currie
asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether the Development Commission has made any grants for innovation in rural bus services.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
The Development Commission recently approved the first 13 grants—totalling £69,000 — from the rural transport development fund for minibus services, rural transport advisers and local liaison groups. It has also agreed to support a business advisory service for rural transport operators being run by the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas.
§ Mrs. Currie
I welcome my hon. Friend's statement. May I invite him to come to my constituency of Derbyshire, South where, instead of getting stuck behind an almost empty heavily subsidised double-decker bus in our country lanes, he will now find himself joining in with the local services, which are now much improved and often run by minibus and minicab operators, public and private? Does he agree that the new Transport Act 1985 presents excellent business opportunities to those operating in transport in future?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I shall be delighted to join my hon. Friend in her constituency. I notice that what she has to say about the services there contrasts extraordinarily with what was said during the by-election by opponents of our 11 proposals. I am sure that the public will judge for themselves the difference between the actuality and the rumours which were spread about before.
§ Mr. Meadowcroft
Is the Minister aware that voluntary sector community transport projects are doing much innovative work as well and that they are not in quite the same category as those referred to by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)? What links does the Minister's Department have with Community Transport UK and its local branches?
§ Mr. Mitchell
The Department keeps in touch with all those developments, including a range of community schemes. The Development Commission is including those sorts of schemes in its operations.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
Does my hon. Friend agree that whether the Development Commission makes, or fails to make, a grant in any specific it should not be used as an excuse for the absence or deterioration of any rural service? Does he also agree that it is the right and proper duty of our county councils, now that they no longer use their money in a blanket subsidy way, to direct the money that used to be in their budgets for blanket subsidy specifically to ensure that there is proper provision where it is socially necessary so to do?
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Operators of rural services, to which we have given particular attention, get not only the rebate of fuel duty, but 6p a mile this year from the transitional rural bus grant. My hon. Friend is completely right in identifying the substantial sums which are available to county and district councils to provide services, especially in rural areas, which would not otherwise be paying and have, therefore, not been registered as commercial services.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Is not the reality that the National Bus Company is planning to sack 10,000 of its workers and axe one bus service in three? Does that not deny the possibility or rural services surviving the Transport Act 1985? Will the hon. Gentleman publish in full the registrations on bus services, which have now been completed, on which he should have information? It is perhaps too much to expect the Secretary of State to repudiate the views of his predecessor, but will the Minister invite him to distance himself from the former Secretary of State, who said that bus operators were now free to operate the services without the constraints of a social conscience?
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that my right hon. Friend's last comments were taken totally out of context. Over two thirds of all routes have been registered and the remaining routes are going out to competitive tender. The hon. Gentleman cannot say that the National Bus Company is going to pay off a given number of employees until it knows how many contracts it has won when it puts in for the tenders. In the past 10 years of decline of the bus industry, the National Bus Company has paid off a far larger number than that.