If Chris Smith’s comments are accurately reported in your paper, then he is being uncharacteristically unfair.
When I was Minister for Buses, far from making cuts, I actually found more money for buses than the previous government had. This included a brand new £600m Local Sustainable Transport Fund, much of which was allocated to help encourage and improve bus travel, including for example the provision of real-time bus information locally (which I am still waiting for ESCC to install). Then there were three rounds of the Green Bus Fund, to encourage the purchase of (largely British made) new electric and hybrid buses – local people may recall me launching one of these at Lewes bus station. I also created another brand new fund, Better Bus Areas, though sadly ESCC did not bother to bid for any funds. I was told that their officers were all too busy with their highly questionable and very expensive Bexhill-Hastings link road. And there were other grants too, for example to reduce air pollution from existing vehicles.
At the end of my term at the DfT, the bus industry and local councils came together to give me a special one-off award at the National Transport Awards 2013 for my “outstanding contribution to national transport”. I hardly think they would have done so if I had “a lot to answer for”, as Chris Smith is alleged to have said.
I accept that Eric Pickles’s department has cut local authority budgets and that this presents a challenge, but even so, the council has choices it can make, and imposing ill-thought out cuts to vital local bus services is not a good one.
Norman Baker MP