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We heard about the importance of the stability of funding and full cost recovery. The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells was a little negative about that—it is true to say that he was negative about everything. The proportion of Government funding reported as including full cost recovery has risen from 49 per cent. to 57 per cent. The Compact’s annual survey shows that the amount of funding based on full cost recovery increased from 25 per cent. in 2002 to 42 per cent. in 2005. Of course, there is more work to be done, but we are demonstrating that we are taking forward work to
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embed a culture change across Government in the way in which we work with the third sector, including through programmes such as those to train commissioners.

On the three-year funding, I remind the House that as Minister with responsibility for the third sector I will report annually on progress across Government to the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who will write shortly to Departments to remind them of the Government commitment that submissions would be made to us by the end of the year on how three-year funding is being implemented, and how it is being cascaded to other agencies.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East asked a question about the charitable status of independent schools. The Charities Act 2006 makes clear the principle that charities must be “for the public benefit”. Independent schools are just one group of charities in whose case the presumption of public benefit is being removed. In any decision on whether charities, including independent schools, are “for the public benefit” and so qualify for charitable status, the key is access. To pass the public benefit test, an organisation has to be accessible to a sufficiently large section of the population. I look forward to the Charity Commission—the independent regulator—producing its final public benefit guidance later this year. Finally, let me turn to campaigning.

Norman Baker: Before the Minister turns to campaigning, which I want to hear about, can I point out that a number of Members, including me, raised the issue of core funding, which, with respect, he has not yet addressed?

Phil Hope: I was aware that time was not on my side, but I will address the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. There are important points to make on the subject. First, through Capacitybuilders, we have established important core funding for infrastructure organisations, which are not front-line organisations but those that serve the front line. We expect local authorities to use capacity building funding to ensure that infrastructure bodies can provide the core funding that is needed to deliver the training, advice and information that front-line organisations need. That is an important part of the next phase of the funding programme.

I would also say to the hon. Gentleman and to organisations that are interested in the debate that organisations that deliver a service should not distinguish between their service to the public and the administrators who back it up; those administrators are key to front-line service. The money is not project funding, but core funding. When people think about making an application and drawing up a service level agreement, they should ensure that it includes an understanding of the fact that the core is front-line service delivery. If that is discussed, and if the application is made in that way, many of the issues can be resolved.

Also on that point, and on ensuring that local councils promote and fund voluntary organisations in the way that I have described, I should mention the public service agreement targets that were announced recently. In the local government performance framework, one key indicator for local councils relates to their responsibility
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to promote a thriving third sector. It is those kinds of levers that will enable local voluntary organisations to ensure that their local authority, unlike some examples mentioned in the debate, fulfils its obligation to fund the third sector. Let me turn to campaigning.

Mr. Sheerman: Before the Minister moves on, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) asked a couple of specific questions about community funding networks. If the Minister has time, will he come back to the matters that she raised?

Phil Hope: It is kind of hon. Members to pick up on the points made that I have not managed to cover. On the subject of community champions, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made a fair point. I will discuss her concerns with my ministerial colleagues, so that we can think about how the matter can be taken forward. In a debate of this kind, I cannot guarantee any outcomes, but I can tell her that the points that she made were heard loud and clear by Members on the Front Bench. We will do our best to respond positively, where we can.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank the Minister for that, but I made one other point on a matter in which he does have some power: I wanted to try to accelerate the funding process for the Community Foundation Network.

Phil Hope: As we speak, we are working hard on the model for distributing community endowment funds, so that we can get the money down to the local level, and so that grants can be distributed from April onwards. We are also working hard on the £80 million community grant scheme. We want to find the appropriate mechanisms for delivering those two funding streams. We want to make sure that those funds are delivered by local organisations that understand the locality, so that the revenue stream that comes from endowment funds and locally delivered community grants directly deliver what local organisations most require. I hear loud and clear the request that we get on with that so that there is no gap and the money can flow from 1 April. I assure my hon. Friend that I will do my best to ensure that that is the case.

On campaigning, I declare a small interest. For example, I attended the Lymphoma Association 21 years celebratory reception in the House this week. The association campaigns for improvements to the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease, for which I have just been treated. I think my attendance at the reception was absolutely right, because I would not have benefited from the health service delivering a better cancer treatment service if that organisation had not been in the forefront of running campaigns for transforming our public services.

We should not be ashamed of campaigning. As we heard eloquently from Members in all parts of the House, it is the way that charities can speak up for those who do not have a voice and who feel overlooked. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Slough that it is a strange irony that the Opposition say that
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they want independence for the sector, but when it comes to a voice in campaigning, they do not seem to be quite so keen.

We stated in the review document that we do not want to change the law, but we do want to provide reassurance to charities that they can campaign and speak out without looking over their shoulders, as many feel they must at the moment. It is for the Charity Commission to talk to the sector, as it is doing, about the details of those matters and to prepare its revised guidance. It is already clear from the Charity Commission briefing and the question and answer documents that it issued in April that it recognises, rightly, the issues being raised. It recognises the uncertainty in the current guidance. The questions and answers are helpful and will form a good base for the revised guidance.

Specifically on the question of dominance, the key point is that any activities must be in pursuit of the charitable purpose for which the organisation was set up. Decisions on what is justified will be a matter for the Charity Commission, but it is already clear that the commission thinks that there are cases where it is acceptable for campaigning activity to be temporarily dominant so long as it is in pursuit of charitable purposes. As the commission says,

Every charity in the country will have heard the attitude of the Conservative Front-Bench team to the right of charities to speak up. It sounds like a desire not so much to make poverty history, as to make campaigning history.

Greg Clark: We all know that charities are temporarily able to have a dominant campaigning purpose, but should it be permanent?

Phil Hope: Those on the Conservative Front Bench are shifting position as they speak. They are embarrassed by their position on campaigning and by the Leader of the Opposition, who chose this week to try to make the third sector a political football by describing us—the Government—as undermining the third sector, which is palpably nonsense. Government support for third sector organisations should not be about abandoning them in the guise of setting them free, abusing them by cutting public services and getting charities to do the work on the cheap, or patronising them by emphasising the importance of independence but complaining when they campaign. We want to create an environment in which the third sector flourishes, is independent and develops new partnerships. That is a 21st century approach to a thriving third sector.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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Transport in Pudsey

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Watson.]

5.33 pm

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): Sitting through the debate this afternoon felt a little like being a passenger sitting on a train outside Leeds City station waiting for a platform to become vacant. I promise the House and my right hon. Friend the Minister that I will not expand into the time available by applying the parliamentary equivalent of Parkinson’s law.

There is an old adage that states that when Pudsey is strong, Yorkshire is strong, and when Yorkshire is strong, England is strong. It refers to cricket, but it is a good axiom for transport, as I shall try to demonstrate in this whistle-stop tour of transport issues in Pudsey constituency.

As the vast majority of passenger transport journeys in my constituency are made by bus, I shall begin by discussing bus services. Some hon. Members, including me, have banged our heads against a brick wall for many years in arguing for bus operators and services to be made more accountable and responsive to the communities that they serve, rather than to the profit motive on which they normally operate. For years, Ministers dutifully dead-batted our demands. At the 2005 Labour party conference, however, the Secretary of State for International Development, who was then the Secretary of State for Transport, made the announcement that gave us real hope for change. That was followed by the publication of “Putting Passengers First” and of the draft Local Transport Bill.

Deregulation has been a disaster for many communities the length and breadth of this country, which is certainly the case for several communities in my constituency. The Conservative attitude to bus services was typified by Margaret Thatcher’s view that any man who depended on buses by the age of 26 should regard himself as a failure. That characterised Tory policy then and it characterises Tory policy now. It is high time for this Government to break away from that legacy.

Since deregulation in 1985, quality and standards have undoubtedly fallen across bus services in Pudsey and West Yorkshire. Fares have increased by more than 50 per cent. in real terms, and the number of passengers in West Yorkshire has fallen by almost 40 per cent., which equates to 100 million passenger journeys. Under deregulation, bus companies can pick and choose what services they provide. Services are chopped, changed, missing or late, and passengers feel powerless. Bus operators continue to make profits, even when they are providing a poor service.

Links to facilities such as health centres, post offices, shopping centres, schools, colleges and recreational facilities are often inadequate or non-existent, because the operator has no interest in meeting that public need and is only interested in making a profit. Passengers turn to their MPs, councillors or the passenger transport executive, which is Metro in West Yorkshire, only to discover our individual and collective impotence. That is why we need greater powers locally to give communities a better deal.

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In areas such as mine, deregulation has been a failure, even on its own terms. There is no real competition, no passenger choice and no way of discerning value for money for the taxpayer, where services are put out to tender by the PTE. PTEs, such as Metro in West Yorkshire, currently subsidise about 13 per cent. of services. It is impossible to gauge whether the taxpayer is getting value for money in a monopoly situation in which only one company tenders for each contract. My area, like many others, has been subject to a plethora of service changes, which has led to a concentration of resources on profitable routes and a move away from unprofitable but socially desirable services. Communities such as Hough Side in Pudsey and Fairfield estate in Farsley have been cut out of the service network without notice, leaving many residents, especially older people, stranded. Links to important shopping centres such as Pudsey and the Owlcotes centre have been reduced or cut altogether.

In the not-too-distant past, disruptive changes were made to services such as the Nos. 97, 647 and 651 in the Guiseley and Yeadon areas in my constituency. There are no public transport links from my constituency to the recently rebuilt Wharfedale hospital in Otley, which provides my constituents with key services, or to the nearby treatment centre at Eccleshill in Bradford. That causes real hardship to my constituents who do not have ready access to alternative forms of transport.

Services have effectively been slimmed down to a profitable core. Routes such as the cross-city No. 4 between Pudsey and Whinmoor are often quoted as a success of the deregulated system. An ftr bus has been introduced through a partnership between First Bus, which is the operator, Metro, which is the PTE, and Leeds city council. Investment in the service, which is welcome, includes bus priorities, stop and shelter upgrades, real-time information displays and traffic light priorities for buses. All that is excellent as far as it goes, but such showcase routes cannot hide the decline of services such as those that I have mentioned.

Within the overall picture of decline, there was—as my right hon. Friend the Minister may mention—a small overall growth in bus patronage in West Yorkshire in 2006-07. However, that was due entirely to the very welcome introduction of free concessionary travel; unfortunately, adult and child concession journeys declined, and I think that there is a connection between the two.

Declining bus services affect everyone, regular bus users or not. The deterioration of services encourages increased car use, and that creates even more congestion and pollution, as well as road safety hazards such as speeding and rat-running. On carbon emissions, we know from research carried out by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research that, per passenger mile, coach and bus travel produces only 30 per cent. of the carbon dioxide created by petrol-fuelled cars and only 40 per cent. of that created by diesels. The plea is that the new draft Local Transport Bill must not become another false dawn, such as when quality contracts were introduced under the Transport Act 2000.

Those who, like me, have been campaigning on such issues for many years welcome the replacement of the “only practicable way” test. However, concerns are already being expressed about the proposed new process. We do not want an insuperable legal high jump—the situation
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at the moment—to be replaced by an interminable bureaucratic marathon, nor do we want a period of instability and uncertainty to be created by unnecessary tinkering with structures such as the PTEs. I am pleased that that issue is not being pursued as was originally feared in places such as West Yorkshire.

There is a clear difference of opinion between the Passenger Transport Executive Group, or pteg, of which I am an active member—I declare that interest, although I do not think I need to—and Ministers about the time scale for introducing a quality contract. Passenger transport authorities and PTEs may have to negotiate with civil servants, especially as part of the quality contract process involves Government funding. There may then be intervention by the traffic commissioners and an appeal to the transport tribunal—and almost inevitably, given that bus operators will fight quality contracts to the last ditch, a judicial review.

We believe that the local transport authority, such as Metro in my area—not the unaccountable traffic commissioners and transport tribunals—should determine whether a quality contract goes ahead. If the Government insist on a role for traffic commissioners, that should be to ensure that the PTEs have carried out the process properly, rather than to determine the merits of the case.

Stronger arrangements to protect passengers and staff also need to be put in place to cover the transitional period between an incumbent operator losing a franchise competition and a new franchise beginning. Obviously, that includes issues such as the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 for bus staff and the traffic commissioners having the powers to prevent the incumbent operator from withdrawing from the market in a way that causes undue disruption for passengers and further costs for the PTE.

Rail has a major role to play in my constituency, which is served by three stations and three lines. West Yorkshire, and my constituency in particular, were badly affected by the disastrous way in which railways were privatised. The first act of the original franchisee in our area, MTL, was to shed 70 or 80 drivers. The result, of course, was the chaos of constantly cancelled services.

However, to be fair, rail services across the Leeds city region have been a major success story in recent years. Rail use in West Yorkshire has increased by 54 per cent. in the past 10 years and peak patronage into Leeds has doubled over that period. Between 7.30 am and 9 am, more than 90 per cent. of trains have standing passengers; unfortunately, some trains carry up to 200 per cent. of seated capacity. Given the success of the rail service in West Yorkshire, we have to cope with that sort of “sardine” syndrome; that is why I want to raise the importance of increasing capacity in our local network sooner rather than later. The pressures that I described have been reflected acutely in some of the routes across my constituency.

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