LOCAL bus services are a lifeline for many people in the Richmond constituency and I regularly deal with questions about how to keep our most isolated communities connected to the wider world.
Money to subsidise buses is, of course, tight but I am constantly heartened by community-based initiatives to keep services going in some form. In many cases this involves volunteers and I salute their ongoing commitment.
Central Government also has a role to play. While there are spending constraints, this Government has pledged to maintain levels of fuel subsidy paid to operators and also to continue to fund concessionary fares at least until the end of this Parliament.
It has also put £27m into a fund to provide new minibuses for charities and other community organisations to provide transport services in rural areas. Since the launch of the Department of Transport Community Minibus Fund in 2014 more than 350 new buses have been supplied across the country.
Successful bids have been made by seven organisations in the Richmond constituency and recently new vehicles have been delivered to Stokesley and District Community Care Association, Appleton Wiske Community Transport, Bedale Community Transport, Breathing Space Northallerton, Reeth and District Community Transport and St John’s Community Centre in Catterick Garrison.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of formally handing over one of the new minibuses to Breathing Space and I was delighted to hear about the difference it would make and how the charity was planning to get maximum value from the asset by making it available to other organisations in Northallerton.
The most recent minibus recipient was the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership’s Little White Bus operation run by Cllr John Blackie, a small number of part-time employees and a band of 40 volunteer drivers. A new £65,000 Mercedes 16-seater is now part of a ten-bus fleet connecting the dales with the main North Yorkshire market towns and providing an invaluable service to those with no access to private transport. All these vehicles were supplied under a first round of funding. Recently, the Government announced a second round of community minibus grants worth £2m. Applications need to be submitted by December 2.
Details about how to apply can be obtained from the Community Transport Association website www.ctauk.org.
There was more good news with the saving of the Sunday and bank holiday Wensleydale Flyer service between Northallerton and Hawes. All credit to constituent Ruth Annison, who raised this issue with me a year ago as part of her steadfast campaign to keep the service going, and Acorn Stairlifts for its funding.
I am also pleased to report that following a meeting with the team behind another community transport initiative, I have agreed to support the Wensleydale Wheels project. This aims to establish a community healthcare transport service to get people to hospital, the GP’s surgery, or even the dentist, if they can’t make it on their own. In this case, a new minibus will not be required but I’ll be doing what I can to help the project obtain the £140,000 funding for a three-year pilot project to get up and running.