Last week marked one year since I was appointed as Secretary of State for Transport in Rishi Sunak’s Government. It has been a huge honour to serve in this position, alongside my role as the Member of Parliament for the Forest of Dean, and throughout the year I have ensured that the priorities of my Department reflect the unique circumstances and challenges facing rural areas such as ours.
This has been evidenced in the Government’s work to tackle the problem of potholes, with an extra £200 million being provided to local authorities across the country to address this issue at the last budget. I was pleased to see that Gloucestershire County Council have been using their share of this funding to resurface more than 170 roads and thousands of potholes across Gloucestershire. Further upgrades of our local infrastructure are also taking shape in the form of the A417 Missing Link, with work taking place to create a dual carriageway on the site between the Brockworth bypass and Cowley roundabout, cutting journey times for my constituents and making a real difference to local businesses.
I have also been particularly keen to do all I can to boost the bus sector given its importance for many in the Forest. To encourage passengers back onto the bus after the disruption of the pandemic, my Department is providing up to £200 million to cap single bus fares at £2 until the end of 2024 to ensure costs are kept down for those seeking to use the bus to commute to work, visit family and friends and attend appointments. It is hugely encouraging to see that under this Conservative Government, the average bus fare in rural and non-metropolitan areas of England has dropped by 10.8 per cent since June 2022.
Additionally, as a result of further investment from my Department, the County Council will be expanding ‘The Robin’, their on-demand minibus service, to the rest of the Forest of Dean District and other parts of Gloucestershire. I had the pleasure of visiting this amazing project recently and talking with some of its regular passengers to find out what they thought. Everyone I spoke to was very supportive of this bookable bus service.
There is still plenty more work to do in this area, but I have been very pleased to witness the improvements in our local infrastructure in the past year. Moving forward, I will continue to do all I can to improve our local transport offer and advocate for my constituents at the heart of Government.
This column was first published in The Forester newspaper.