HC Deb 23 April 2002 vol 384 cc135-7
4. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

What recent additional resources have been allocated to local authorities for investment in local transport. [49396]

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers)

Last December we announced an allocation of more than £1.5 billion for local authority transport schemes. By 2005, we will have invested over £8 billion in a five-year package of local transport improvements. That funding represents a long-overdue increase in levels of investment.

Andy King

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response, and I can give him some figures from Warwickshire, which has benefited enormously from that settlement.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

Has he got a job yet?

Andy King

I have not, actually.

Spending on integrated transport has gone up from £1.7 million to £4.52 million and on public transport improvements from £212,000 to £1,005,000. The facts speak for themselves. Now here comes the question. The people of Rugby and Kenilworth have said for a long time that they want to use public transport, but, through the efforts of the Conservative party, it was not there to use. There is now more public transport, and we need to continue the investment. Does my right hon. Friend share my pleasure in the refurbishment, undertaken under the Government, of Rugby station, which will officially be reopened on 27 May?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State can now answer the question.

Mr. Byers

I am sure that we all look forward to celebrating the opening of Rugby station on 27 May. My hon. Friend made an important point, and Conservative Members' reaction was all too typical. They do not want the facts to get in the way of their prejudices. The Conservative party starved local authorities of funding for their transport projects. Consequently, many parts of the country have a local transport system that desperately needs significant investment. We are putting in that money now: £1.5 billion before Christmas and more than £8 billion by 2005. That investment will make a genuine difference in Rugby and Kenilworth and throughout the country.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

The Secretary of State is considering the allocation of resources for local transport systems. He knows that in London, investment in the tube has decreased in the past four years and that long-term investment strategy has still not been determined. Delays have doubled in that period, and London Underground has missed its seven targets.

An article in the Evening Standard today describes London commuting as the worst in Europe. How can any voter in the next four years trust the Government to provide a decent transport system in London or anywhere else in the country?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman makes the case for the modernisation plans for the London underground, which has been starved of investment for too long. He must acknowledge that under 20 years of Conservative rule as much as under any other Government, money was not invested in the London underground system. We are consulting about a proposal to provide investment—some £16 billion a year over 15 years—in it. That will remedy many of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I hope that he will support our proposals for investment and modernisation.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

What influence will regional government have over local and regional transport plans? What will be the division of powers between local and regional government and national Government? Will the forthcoming White Paper spell that out? When can we expect it to be published?

Mr. Byers

As always, my hon. Friend presents a strong argument for involving the regions, in this case in transport. He will have to await the White Paper, which will be published shortly after the local elections on 2 May. When he reads its proposals, he will realise that, for the first time, we have a Government with an active regional policy that provides choice. People can vote for an elected regional assembly if they wish, but, most important, the White Paper will value the regions of England. I am delighted that so many hon. Members are wearing red roses on St. George's day. Perhaps they have been out campaigning for Labour in the local elections. On St. George's day, it is right to celebrate the regions of England, and the White Paper will do that.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

The community transport schemes funded by the Government have been welcomed in my constituency and elsewhere. However, they have suffered from the problem of a hand-to-mouth existence because their funding has never been guaranteed beyond the next year or, in some cases, two years. Will the Secretary of State explain how such community transport schemes will be funded in the long term when the current grants run out? Will councils have to cut other items of public transport to keep community transport going?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance and the valuable role of community transport in his constituency and in many others. The figures will show that we have doubled the funds being made available to that initiative. The hon. Gentleman makes the strong point—both in relation to certainty and to the achievement of value for money—that if we can plan not only on an annual basis but perhaps over a three-year spending programme, it will allow people to plan ahead with confidence, which they perhaps cannot always do at the moment. We will certainly want to look carefully at how we can extend the benefits of the Government's three-year spending programme to those agencies, local authorities and bodies involved in community transport which want the certainty that we can now provide as a result of that three-year spending programme.