I was delighted to be invited to speak this morning (22 January 2014) and I would like to thank Steve Kenward for his kind introduction.
The Motorcycle Industry Association is an important and influential voice of the sector and we really value your support for Wheels 2 Work.
I would also like to thank Nicky Bassett Powell National Coordinator, Wheels 2 Work Association, for all her hard work organising today’s (22 January 2014) event.
I was particularly pleased to be invited because I’ve spent most of my life in North Yorkshire.
My family have been farming there since 1850 and I count myself lucky to know just how wonderful our green and pleasant land can be.
But I’m also aware that isolation can be a real problem for some people who live in rural areas.
We once took a young lad on through the YTS.
But we discovered he couldn’t get to work by bus.
So I bought him a motorbike and he paid me back through his wages.
What’s good is everyone wins.
He had a job he wanted and we had the enthusiastic employee we needed.
So I was in some respects a Wheels 2 Work pioneer.
So today (22 January 2014) I want to talk briefly about why I think Wheels 2 Work schemes are important.
Why we are supporting these schemes through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.
And why, if Wheels 2 Works schemes can seize the commercial opportunities available, I think there is a real opportunity to leverage funding, and help even more people in the future.
Around 10 million people live in the English countryside.
And the rural economy is a significant contributor to our national wealth.
There are 505,000 businesses in total - around a third of all businesses in the country.
And rural areas in England contributed £211 billion to the UK economy in 2010.
So if Britain’s economy is to continue growing, we also need the rural economy to thrive.
We need young people to be able to reach jobs, attend training courses, or stay on in education.
And we need countryside businesses, many of which are located in hard to reach areas, to be able to attract and retain the employees they need.
But I know that access to regular and reliable public transport in rural areas can be a problem.
Because the population is relatively sparse and widely spread out it can make the operation of commercial bus services unprofitable.
And it is hard to rely on public transport if you need to arrive at work early in the morning or travel home late at night.
For example, in my own constituency the last bus from Whitby to Sleights leaves just before 5pm in the evening.
For longer distances, the alternative to public transport is a car or motorbike. But for many people that can be too expensive.
People who live in rural areas need to travel further to reach their work, the shops and the public services they need.
On average, someone living in the countryside travels clocks up around 50% more miles travelling in a year than those who live in towns and cities.
As a result, the average weekly transport costs for those in rural villages are £14 higher than the national average.
For many these 2 factors combine to create the classic chicken and egg problem.
People can’t get to work to earn money because they don’t have access to transport.
But because they can’t travel to where the jobs are, they can’t afford to run a car or motorbike.
This is equally true for young people who need to get to school or college.
So we also need more flexible, innovative and cost effective ways to meet people’s needs.
Wheels 2 Work is one solution to that problem.
That’s why we have supported schemes through the £600 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund and the establishment of the Wheels 2 Work Association.
And we’ve seen a 35% increase schemes since 2012.
I’m pleased to hear that these are already making a big difference to people’s lives.
Take just one example.
East Riding Council has used the Local Sustainable Transport funding to purchase 15 new scooters.
Helping people like Andrew Sonley – as I read in the local press.
The scooter has made it practical for him to commute from his home in Beverley to work in Holme-on-Spalding Moor.
A half hour commute that simply wouldn’t have been possible by public transport.
That’s just one example of how schemes are helping people find work, stay on in education, or even helping them increase their hours and earn more.
I am sure you will have many more examples of Wheels 2 Work schemes that are making a difference to people’s lives to discuss this morning.
So what are the next steps?
We want to encourage more innovative travel projects for communities – which is why we have recently announced a further round of Local Sustainable Transport funding.
There’s £78.5 million available for 2015 to 2016. And up to 100 million capital through the Local Growth Fund.
This money will be available for all areas, not only those that have already received funding in previous rounds.
We want bids that are ambitious, engage local businesses, and that are focussed on improving the quality of life for the local community.
Local authorities and local enterprise partnerships that are putting in bids together must demonstrate that the funding will deliver good value for money.
That’s why I welcome the launch of the Wheels 2 Work handbook (PDF, 162KB) today (22 January 2014).
It’s clear, concise and includes everything you need to set up a new scheme or improve the running of an existing initiative.
It’s also why this morning’s focus on securing long-term financial sustainability is essential.
Local authorities and local businesses know that schemes are great at getting people into work and training.
But in a world where funding is tight, councils will always be nervous about entering into an open ended grant funding commitment.
I want local authorities thinking about bidding for Local Sustainable Transport funding to know that Wheels 2 Work schemes can be different.
Well run schemes can be like any other business that generates a return, but a return that is invested back into helping more people.
Devon has shown how this model can work.
By generating a commercial income, charging sustainable loan fees and growing the business they are helping more people while reducing ongoing reliance on grant funding.
If you look at it this way, it’s not a grant you are asking for from your local council.
It is an investment.
In conclusion, I want to see lots of bids from local authorities and local enterprise partnerships for Local Sustainable Transport Funding that helps people get into and get on in work.
The next round of bidding closes on 31 March 2014 and the guidance is available on our website.
Now it’s over to you to show them Wheels 2 Work schemes are good investment.