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The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): In September 2008 my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Bolton West, (Ruth Kelly), announced that £25 million had been set aside for a second round of Kickstart bus funding. I am now pleased to confirm that the competition is launched today, and that we are now welcoming bids for funding for new and enhanced bus services from local authorities and their partners.
Kickstart is targeted at schemes that have the potential to become successful but which initially might be more marginal in commercial terms and require some financial help to start them off, or which are currently marginal schemes that with some extra support could be made more successful.
Through Kickstart, we are looking to pump-prime bus services which will contribute to the Departments overall objectives of increasing bus patronage, and in particular developing bus services as an alternative to car use, bringing with it a reduction in congestion and benefits to the environment. It is also about improving accessibility and social inclusion. This round will also focus on schemes which make use of the new bus powers in the Local Transport Act 2008. We hope this will allow us to build up good practice on the use of these powers to promulgate to other local authorities and operators.
The application form and guidance are today being placed on the Departments website and in the House Libraries. We will also email these documents to the key bodies which represent local authorities and bus operators later today.
The policy of transferring to local highway authorities the responsibility for trunk roads that are considered to be non-core was first set out in the White Paper A New Deal for Transport, published in July 1998 (Cm 3950).
Following advice from the Highways Agency, informed by discussions with the relevant authorities, I have now decided that the following route section should be removed from the announced detrunking programme and remain part of the strategic road network, maintained and operated by the Highways Agency:
A40 in Gloucestershire (from M5 Junction 11 to the Herefordshire boundary).
I have written to the appropriate local highway authority, and relevant MPs, outlining the reasons for my decision. Copies of these letters have been placed in the Library of the House.
The informal meeting of Employment and Social Policy Ministers was held on 22 and 23 January 2009 in Luhacovice, Czech Republic. I represented the United Kingdom along with my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs.
The theme of this informal was Mobilitya bridge between the labour market demand and the supply of working skills. Its aim was to highlight the role of workforce mobility in enhancing labour market flexibility, social cohesion and economic growth in the European Union.
Following on from the opening session when representatives from the European institutions and social partners outlined their views, the meeting was split into three plenary sessions, each devoted to specific challenges linked to mobility: job mobility, geographical mobility and social mobility. For the United Kingdom, I intervened on the job mobility session, supporting the European Union economic recovery plan and the European Union skills review, and described some of the recent United Kingdom initiatives in response to the current economic crisis. The presidency and many member states stressed the undiminished importance of mobility, particularly for those furthest from the labour market. The key role of education and skills to ensure the rapid re-inclusion of workers was highlighted. The presidency concluded that the current financial and economic crisis only highlighted the need for greater workforce mobility.
The meeting concluded with a ministerial discussion on the working time directive, attended by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. The United Kingdom and many other member states argued that retaining the opt-out continued to be an absolute priority. The presidency stated that it would try and facilitate an agreement with the European Parliament during the conciliation process but that finding an agreement would not be easy.