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Protect ‘crucial lifeline’ of rural bus services for isolated elderly, urges MP

PUBLISHED: 17:00 12 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:37 12 May 2020

Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, has asked the government for reassurance that advice to avoid public transport will not see isolated older people in rural communities left behind. Photo: Archant

Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, has asked the government for reassurance that advice to avoid public transport will not see isolated older people in rural communities left behind. Photo: Archant

Archant

A Norfolk MP has asked the government for reassurance that advice to avoid public transport will not see isolated older people in rural communities left behind.

Duncan Baker, North Norfolk MP, urged the transport secretary to ensure the crucial “lifeline” of bus networks was protected during the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Baker raised the question in the House of Commons this afternoon (Tuesday, May 12).

“Rural bus transport is a lifeline for so many people, particularly in rural constituencies such as north Norfolk,” he said. “We have the oldest constituency demographics in the whole country, with many older people who cannot drive and crucially they rely on buses as their only form of transport in isolated areas.”

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He added: “Given the government guidance that we should avoid using public transport wherever possible, what reassurance can you give the bus operators and those vulnerable people that rely on buses so heavily that routes can be safely and financially viably operated to maintain services?”

And the transport secretary Grant Shapps told Mr Baker the government recognised the “basic dilemma” inherent in telling people to avoid bus and rail travel.

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He said: “He’s absolutely right to point this out and there is a basic dilemma - I want to be completely straight with him and the House.

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“We have a situation where for the first time ever, probably, I’m a transport secretary encouraging people not to use public transport which rubs against, of course, their need to have income.”

But Mr Shapps said services would be supported and stressed that the government had pledged an additional grant of almost £200m to support bus operators through the crisis - on top of an existing £200m in funding.

“At the beginning of this crisis, I announced a multimillion pound deal as a bus support grant to make sure that his and other honourable member’s services could continue,” he said.

“I’m very keen as he knows, as is the prime minister, on buses, and that is why we have a very large multimillion pound fund for buses, particularly to look after left behind communities during this time.”

The Department for Transport announced the funding, which totals £167m over three months and a further £30m of government cash to go on maintaining services, at the beginning of April.

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