The government’s position contained in guidance that private hire coach trips in England with more than one household group aboard are not permitted to take place before 17 May has been underlined by Under-Secretary of State for Transport Baroness Vere, who at the same time defended the approach to grant support for the sector.
In a letter to Emma Hardy MP dated 5 May, Lady Vere says that the formal position on private hire coach trips and excursions “is consistent” with the roadmap towards the relaxation of restrictions that was published on 22 February.
“As well as the issue of indoor gatherings, non-essential private hire coach trips taking place for leisure purposes are not consistent with the current guidance that passengers should minimise travel until step 3 [of the roadmap],” she says. It is not clear why the government continues to regard private hire coach trips as “indoor gatherings” when it does not do so for scheduled services.
Still no reason why coach trips guidance conflicts with STG
There has still been no explanation why the Cabinet Office-approved guidance that is at the heart of the controversy overrules established Department for Transport (DfT) safer transport guidance. The latter permits trips to take place before 17 May. The conflict has been a source of frustration for some coach operators, with a number having to cancel planned trips at short notice when the Cabinet Office-approved position became clear.
Also addressed in Lady Vere’s letter to Mrs Hardy is Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) funding in England. Lady Vere says that she has been advised by DfT officials “that there is no evidence of a widespread lack of access to grants among coach operators.”
She adds that while a discretionary nature means that there will be “isolated issues,” the government believes that the guidance to local authorities that coach businesses should be considered eligible for ARG “is being well understood.”
Richard Bamber, Managing Partner of Anthony’s Travel and representing RHA Coaches, has expressed disappointment in Lady Vere’s comments. At a meeting on 15 April, Mr Bamber urged her to recognise that the industry “needs the ability to trade.”
“Despite seemingly embracing my phrase, unfortunately [the letter to Mrs Hardy] comes across as being nothing more than lip service and batting the ball away,” says Mr Bamber. He acknowledges that while some operators have received grant support, many more have not.
Government support for tourism and H2S PSVAR also covered
Lady Vere’s letter to Mrs Hardy also notes that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport expects to “bring forward” a Tourism Recovery Plan. It will provide further details on how the government will support UK tourism, which will benefit the coach sector.
She also says that the government continues to engage with stakeholders to identify what action will be taken regarding PSVAR on in-scope home-to-school services when the current temporary exemption expires on 31 July. That includes identifying “whether further exemptions would be appropriate.” It is widely anticipated that a further temporary exemption will be issued, although the industry continues to lobby for a long-term solution.