Bombshell bursts during Vere meeting
Coach operators and MP Emma Hardy set out the case for coaching again to Baroness Vere, but the CPT’s bombshell mid-meeting of another setback sent the Minister into confusion
News that the Cabinet Office had done a U-turn on restarting tours interrupted an on-line meeting with Transport Minister Baroness Vere.
The Zoom meeting saw Richard Bamber of Anthonys Travel – representing RHA Coaches – Alan Acklam, and Emma Hardy MP making the case for the government to support a full return to business for coaches, but in the middle of the meeting, the Confederation of Passenger Transport’s Chief Executive, Graham Vidler, broke the news that the government had changed its mind about group tourism, and set the date back to 17 May.
The meeting had been going well, with Alan Acklam’s evidence getting a response from Baroness Vere that she had ‘taken every opportunity to get funding to coaches.’ She reassured operators that the Additional Restrictions Grant had been specifically aimed at coach tourism, and said operators needed to apply to local authorities for the grant.
Richard Bamber highlighted what he said was a ‘distinct lack of understanding of coaches.’ He said: “We are pigeonholed as a leisure industry but we are not. Buses are not the only vehicle carrying key workers. My company carries Capita staff, the NHS and Jaguar staff, and that’s just in my small area. The 2,000 troops used for testing were taken by coaches. There’s even a coach converted into a mobile vaccination centre. Whenever there’s a logistics issue we step in.”
Graham Vidler then came to the meeting and said that he’d just been briefed that the Cabinet Office had effectively banned coaches from taking tours until Step Three, 17 May: “So if I want to go to Whitby with Alan, I can take the bus, take the train or even travel on a National Express coach but I can’t go on a tour that Alan’s organised, and that’s despite the fact that that’s the only mode of transport that can guarantee me a seat with other members of my household. That doesn’t make sense.
“It’s not just going to have an impact for the next five weeks, it will have an impact on people’s confidence in using the coach and on attractions’ willingness to open up to us.”
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The old phrase ‘you couldn’t make it up’ springs to mind. Once again, it looks as if the limbs of the government are acting independently of each other, and its own transport minister has not been briefed on a bodyswerve in policy.
To be fair to Baroness Vere, the more I hear her, the more stressed she seems; more anxious now to say what she thinks the industry wants to hear (this being how the Johnson government operates) but hamstrung by the ineptitude of the Department for Transport and the unpredictability of the puppet masters in the Cabinet Office.
The frustration in Alan Acklam’s voice was clear. “How do we run a business this way?” he said. The more apposite question has to be ‘how can you govern like this?’ Never mind understanding the technical aspects of coach ventilation and how this might prevent viral transmission, the latest dictat seems to defy simple logic, with trains, trams and even express coaches allowed to carry passengers who board and alight all day, but tour coaches unable to carry groups.
Richard Bamber, representing RHA Coaches, Alan Acklam, Emma Hardy and Graham Vidler deserve great credit for keeping up the pressure on the minister; all clinically logical and on point. But it does feel to me like chucking a xylophone into a tumble dryer and hoping to get a tune.