Harper in a wee spat over ZEBRA numbers


The transport secretary has denied ‘making up numbers’ after an MP on the Transport Select Committee challenged him over the Government’s progress towards a target of 4,000 zero emissions buses by 2025.

SNP MP Gavin Newlands told Mark Harper that he had asked a number of parliamentary questions over the last wee while’. He had received a written answer from transport minister Richard Holden in December that referred to a total of 3,250 buses in UK, whereas the original announcement covered only England and Wales, and in fact only English regions outside London.

A Scottish zero emission bus

Significantly, Mr Holden also confirmed that the pledge of 4,000 buses as for the current Parliament.

Describing the UK figure as ‘a fantasy number’, Mr Newlands said: ‘He is including in that number 802 buses that have nothing to do with the UK Government Scottish Government, Northern Ireland, and so on and are under different funding schemes.

'The initial announcement was for England and Wales, so why is it now accounting for Scottish buses? ‘Is it because you are getting nowhere near the target?’

Mr Harper said: ‘We are not in the habit of making up numbers.’

He added: ‘I think I am right in saying [the overall target of 4,000 buses] was a UK number.’

Mr Newlands also asked the transport secretary to agree that the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme, which provides cash to local authorities, ‘is not fit for purpose’.

Mr Harper replied: ‘I do not agree with you. We have a very significant number of buses ordered and funded through that scheme. Those buses are ordered. They are being constructed.

‘It is fair to say that they have not all been delivered and are not all out on the roads at the moment. But they are in the pipeline to be delivered.’

Mr Newlands said that in March he had received another written answer on the ZEBRA schemes, ‘which is obviously the scheme that was announced to deliver the 4,000 buses’, which showed that there were around 1,300 buses funded, only 503 of which had been ordered.

Mr Harper said that the numbers Mr Newlands had quoted were ‘actually broadly what I just recalled out of my brain’, although he referred to around 1,400. The total number of buses in the written answer was 1,380, including just six that are on the road.

The transport secretary added: ‘I think we are making good progress against our initial target,’ to which Mr Newlands replied: 'Well, your definition of good progress is somewhat different from mine.’

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