In an unexpected move, Richard Holden MP (pictured) has taken up responsibility as minister for coach and bus in England from previous holder Baroness Vere.
Mr Holden was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Transport on 28 October, but news that he would succeed Lady Vere with the local transport brief did not break until 1 November. Lady Vere remains in post, but with altered responsibilities that major on aviation and maritime.
Mr Holden had supported Rishi Sunak in the most recent Conservative leadership election. He was elected MP for North West Durham in 2019 having graduated from the London School of Economics in 2007.
While Mr Holden addressed the Masterclass Theatre at Euro Bus Expo on 2 November, his message around bus funding in England centred on awaiting the highly anticipated autumn fiscal statement from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on 17 November.
Mr Holden also visited several exhibitors at the trade show, including the Confederation of Passenger Transport. The Confederation has welcomed his appointment and adds that it looks forward “to working with him to help coaches and buses play their full part in the development of the nation’s wealth and health.”
On his website, Mr Holden says he is campaigning to improve bus services across his constituency, and that he has spoken on that subject in Parliament and with operators Arriva and Go North East. “I have pushed them on their long-term plans to improve local transport and look forward to continuing to work with them as we deliver on what the area needs,” he adds.
In November 2021, Mr Holden submitted a written question to the government asking what plans it had “to relax Section 19 or Section 22 [permits] for charities or community interest companies… to enable those organisations to run services for social benefit that enable them to cross-subsidise free community services.”
Response to Lady Vere’s departure has been mixed. While some in the bus sector have rued the loss of continuity, others in the coach industry have not forgiven comments made in January 2021 describing much of those businesses’ activity as “non-essential.” Dismissal of the then-possibility of some coach operators ceasing trading also caused major offence.
Lady Vere retained responsibility for coach and bus under a ministerial reorganisation by Liz Truss when she became Prime Minister, but addition of aviation to Lady Vere’s responsibilities raised eyebrows, with questions raised around whether it would constrain the time available to spend on coach and bus.