Transport Minister Baroness Vere has revealed that the coach industry’s provision of services that are viewed by the government as “non-essential” is the reason why the sector has not received a bespoke support package despite multiple requests.
She made the comments when addressing delegates at the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) Bus and Coach Conference on 12 January. While not entirely ruling out the possibility of bespoke backing for coaches, the Baroness says the “non-essential” element creates a “very difficult situation” for ministers when deciding whether to award sector-specific support.
Some coach services are essential but others are not, says Baroness
In answer to a question from CPT Chairman Martin Dean, the Baroness explained: “The coach sector is incredibly diverse. Some of the services that it provides are essential in home-to-school transport and rail replacement. Those are the things that as a country we cannot function properly without.
“But it is also the case that there are services provided by the coach sector that are non-essential. This is taxpayers’ money. We have to ask what is so essential that the government must step in and support it.”
The Baroness drew a parallel between coach operators’ calls and those from hauliers that were seeking sector-specific support early in the pandemic. “Had it been the case that we were not seeing food being delivered to supermarkets and medicines not being delivered, we would have stepped in. That did not happen.”
She claims that Westminster has “tried so hard” to ensure that most of the Department for Education (DfE) funding for additional dedicated home-to-school transport in England has gone to coach operators. It has been stated by industry political ally Emma Hardy MP in a Westminster Hall debate that the DfE money has benefitted only a minority of the sector.
Glimmer of hope from latest discretionary grant pot
A glimmer of hope for coach companies at the Conference was provided the Baroness’s words on a recently announced £500m discretionary funding stream that local authorities (LAs) will administer.
She told delegates that the Department for Transport will write to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) “within the next 24 hours” in the hope that it can “improve the chances of coach operators being able to access that funding.” The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is undertaking similar engagement with DBEIS.
With that in mind, the Baroness adds: “I would encourage all coach operators to make their local authority their best friend for many reasons, but certainly to understand whether the LA will be able to support you with this finance.”