In the House of Commons earlier today Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border, asked two questions of the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government. Dr Hudson was shining a spotlight on Cumbria County Council to encourage them to use central government funds to invest in rural bus services.
Dr Hudson’s initial substantive question:
“What steps is his department taking to increase funding for local authorities in Cumbria?”
Minister Luke Hall MP’s response
“Core spending power in England rises from £49 billion in this financial year to £51.3 billion in 2021/22, a 4.6% cash terms increase and a real terms rise. Council in Cumbria will see their core spending power rise to over £483 million, a 4.5% increase in cash terms and these Councils will also a receive more than £13 million in unringfenced Covid support to help them build back better in the next financial year.”
Dr Hudson’s supplementary question:
“Rural buses are a lifeline for people in Penrith and The Border. In 2014 Cumbria County Council decided to stop using central Government funds to subsidise commercial bus services, which has had a negative impact on provision, meaning some communities in Cumbria are no longer served by regular bus routes. Would my Honourable Friend agree that the Council should change their position and use the available funds to support rural bus routes to allow people to go about their lives, reconnect and help to address the issue of rural isolation?”
The Minister’s response
“Thank you Mr Speaker and can I thank my Honourable Friend for his question, he is a champion for the community that he represents. He is certainly right that Cumbria County Council does have the flexibility to invest in these bus services, perhaps even using some of the £20 million increase that they will receive through the Local Government Finance Settlement. Through the Department for Transport we are also providing a £20 million Rural Mobility Fund to support services in rural and suburban areas and Cumbria have been successful at phase 1 and have recently submitted a business case for review at phase 2 but he is absolutely right to raise this matter. The Council does have the flexibility to make these decisions which I know is of huge importance to him and his constituents.”
Commenting after the session Dr Hudson said:
“I welcomed the comprehensive responses that the Minister gave me. Rural isolation is an issue that many of my constituents have to contend with on a daily basis and I will continue to urge Cumbria County Council to use the available central government funds to invest in vital rural bus services.
The money is there to be used and I urge the Council to reverse their 2014 decision and prove their commitment to improving bus provision in Penrith and The Border and across Cumbria.”