Thursday, 21 October 2010

More freedom for Councils on transport - or will they take the blame for service cuts?

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris  challenged the Government on its commitment to public transport this week - especially buses - asking what the Department of Transport is doing to encourage bus companies to increase the number of services they provide in rural and small town locations.

In response, referring to a separate answer to another Conswrvative MP earlier this month, Norman Baker, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Regional and Local Transport), has suggested that Councils will have a greater role to play in future local public transport planning.

(Whether they will have any money for this, of course, is another matter...)

"It is local authorities that are best placed to ensure that rural communities are able to access jobs and essential services-by bus, flexible services such as dial-a-ride, or by bringing services directly to the door," feels Mr Baker. "They have a statutory duty to produce local transport plans, which we believe remain the best way for authorities to plan transport strategy and delivery."

There also seems to be some vague hope on the part of the Government that 'unviable' routes will be supported by voluntary services.

"In areas where frequent public transport services are not commercially viable, the voluntary and community sector have a large role to play in delivering long-term sustainable alternatives," he suggests," a hint, perhaps, that village communities may soon be fighting to keep public bus services. "The Government are committed to supporting partnership working between local authorities, commercial providers and the voluntary sector that delivers tailor made local services.

"Rather than prescribing one method from Whitehall, we will therefore provide greater funding freedoms and flexibilities at a local level. As part of this approach, the Government recently announced a Local Sustainable Transport Fund which will support local transport and encourage more sustainable travel solutions based on local need."

Despite these reassurances the answer does seem to suggest worrying times ahead for Councils who will bear the brunt of protest as local public transport budgets are cut - rather then the Government, which seems to be passing the buck when it comes to removing public services.

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