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Government stays silent over rail access budget cuts

Government stays silent over rail access budget cuts
27th May 2010 developer

The Department for Transport (DfT) has refused to say whether it has slashed the budget of national schemes to improve access at railway stations.

The alleged cuts were first exposed in a letter written before the election to the DfT by the Scottish government’s transport minister, Stewart Stevenson.

Stevenson criticised the DFT’s decision to cut spending this year on the “small schemes” part of its Access for All budget from £7.9 million to just £3.9 million.

The DfT said previously that it could not comment because of the election.

It also refused to say whether the budget for the larger element of the Access for All scheme had also been cut. That part aims to improve access at the busiest stations and is about five times bigger than the small schemes fund.

But now the election is over, with a new coalition government, the DfT is still refusing to say whether Access for All has been cut.

A DfT spokesman said: “The question relates to a previous administration.”

He said “no decision was ever announced” and added: “The current position is we have a new government and all transport is being looked at.”

When asked whether the last government cut the Access for All budget, he said: “It is not appropriate to comment on speculation like that.”

Faryal Velmi, director of the campaigning accessible transport charity Transport for All, said: “It does seem that disabled people are bearing the brunt of cuts as usual. The rail network desperately needs to be made accessible.”

She said there had been some improvements, but added: “There is a lot to be done, especially in London, which is completely inaccessible.

“Access for All showed a commitment and if that is going to be subsumed and eaten up that is a big matter of concern.”

One announcement by the Labour government several weeks before the election suggests the DfT did slash the Access for All budget.

On 1 April, Labour rail minister Chris Mole announced a £2.9 million “funding boost” to improve access at 42 stations across England and Wales through the small schemes fund.

Although the announcement did not explicitly state that this was the entire allocation for 2010-2011, if it was, it would suggest – once funding for Northern Ireland and Scotland had been added in – that the budget had been cut to about £3.9 million.

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee – the government’s advice body on accessible transport – said it was unable to comment.