At the end of each week, returning from my work in Westminster, I can’t wait to get home to my family in the fresh air and big skies of the South Lincolnshire Fens.
The scale and scope of the place we live remind me of the enormity of creation. But for all the joy of wide open spaces, the sparsity of South Holland extends the distances people are obliged to travel to access what they need and what they want.
So here few things are more important than good transport links and every week I meet constituents whose well-being depends on buses to get to work, school or other facilities. Buses are critical for people without a car, and the difference they make to access to opportunity changes lives.
Maintaining public transport has always been a priority for me. I worked with Norfolk Green to protect services between Moulton, Holbeach, Long Sutton and King’s Lynn; with Delaine Buses on services for Deeping St James, and this week I am meeting those that run Brylaine Buses to persuade them of the need to reinstate a bus to Spalding’s Johnson hospital.
I’ve been proud to be a trustee of the Holbeach and District Community Vehicle Committee because, living here, I appreciate the difference community buses make to countless local clubs and groups.
For those who are elderly, frail or vulnerable bus services that are reliable, frequent and appropriate to their needs are especially important. Last week, in my role as Minister in the Commons with responsibility for bus policy, I committed to look again at the provision of ‘talking buses’ for the visually impaired, as well as other support Government could provide to make bus travel easier and safer for those with disabilities.
Throughout the country the numbers of people using buses is growing, and – as we understand their importance to communities – Government spending on buses has been protected until 2016. This year almost £1 billion is being spent on funding concessionary travel for the elderly, disabled people and 16 to 18 year olds; there is record investment in new low-carbon buses; a £600 million local sustainable transport fund; and communities are being given more control over bus spending, with £40 million, this year alone, directed to local authorities.
All this comes on top of record spending on roads; a £15 billion investment to deliver a hundred new road schemes by 2020, delivering safer journeys and less congestion; good for motorists and good for hauliers.
And we won’t neglect the roads we have now, with £168 million to fill in more than three million potholes. As Minister, I plan to see 80 per cent of roads resurfaced!
The Government’s long term economic plan means we can chart the route to the future with confidence – and given that we are investing more in transport infrastructure than has been for decades – we have the best possible means of getting there.