No coach support announced, but conversation continues
Despite high concern from MPs for the coach sector, no sector specific support for the industry was confirmed during a Government debate yesterday (10 December 2020). However, the conversation on the topic is still ongoing, according to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Rachel Maclean.
The Westminster Hall debate was lead by Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, who has headed the Labour Party’s support of the coach industry during the coronavirus crisis. He outlined the dire situation the sector faces and said: “With all due respect, if the Minister cannot grasp the scale of the challenge after nine months, I must question their interest or competence in this matter. Indeed, I challenge the Minister. The industry is warning that, without urgent support, four in ten companies could go bust. The Government must explain why they are excluding coach companies from the sector-specific support that they have provided to other sectors.”
“If the Minister cannot grasp the scale of the challenge after nine months, I must question their interest or competence in this matter” – Grahame Morris
The debate saw MPs highlight the need for some form of sector specific support for coaches. Among them was Emma Hardy, MP for Hull West and Hessle, who has expressed concern over the coach industry in recent months. She dispelled notions the existing forms of support for businesses impacted by the coronavirus have aided the coach sector.
The vital role coaches play in the community was strongly noted, with them described as small, hard-working businesses, often family-run.
A recurring theme in the debate was that coach operators have not previously turned to their MPs seeking help. Sir Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, said: “Golden Boy Coaches in my constituency is a family business. The owners have never darkened my door before. They have got on with their lives and grown their business. They have provided services to generations of my constituents. Such businesses are part of our communities, as we have heard so eloquently from many other speakers. Now they face a lifetime’s work—generations’ work—going under because high maintenance levels, high debt levels and the high costs of compliance do not sit easily with no customers.”
The work the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has done to highlight the plight of the industry was repeatedly mentioned, with figures of the financial damage and potential job losses a lack of support could cause often quoted by MPs.
Concerns over PSVAR were also mentioned.
It was also noted that Scotland and Northern Ireland have pledged further support for coaches.
Despite it being mentioned that the existing support businesses have been given during the pandemic has not sufficiently aided the coach industry with its considerable overheads, Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Rachel Maclean, continued the line that a ‘significant amount of support’ has been made available. She accepted that many have not been able to access this help and said the packages of support are being kept under review.
Rachel Maclean said: “I assure anybody who is watching this debate, and of course people in the Chamber, that we will continue to work with the coach sector. We will continue those conversations; this is not the end of them. We want to understand and provide the best available support that is necessary.
“As we have discussed, we have an ambitious and achievable long-term environmental plan to deliver on greening our transport sector and reducing and removing vehicle emissions, and the coach industry is a very important part of that plan.
“I want to reassure coach operators and their employees, and all hon. Members present here in Westminster Hall today, that we remain committed to safeguarding the future of the coach industry. I know that the concerns that have been raised today are being heard by Ministers, by the Chancellor and by Members across Government.”