A multimillion-pound support package to ensure supply routes bringing critical goods into the UK can remain open during the coronavirus pandemic has been announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Up to 31 routes are eligible for support, with up to £17m available for those between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and up to £10.5m for ferry and freight services to the Isle of Wight and Scilly Isles.
Further support is available for critical routes between Britain and the European mainland – including Eurotunnel.
Light rail systems in Manchester, Sheffield, the West Midlands, Nottingham and Tyne and Wear will also receive support.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Photo: PA Copyright: pa
The funding is designed to ensure required capacity levels are maintained on the routes. Support is expected to be provided within weeks once discussions with operators have been completed.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing Mr Shapps paid tribute to the work of transport workers who have gone “above and beyond to keep vital freight and passenger services running”.
He added: “The actions I have announced today will ensure that transport can continue to serve the nation during this crisis, keep us supplied with everything we need to stay at home, yet also ensure that infrastructure required to emerge from this pandemic stands ready to serve us all when that time does arise.”
He said: “The continued operation of both passenger and freight transport is critically important to our resilience as a country.
“So today I am announcing a new package of measures to ensure transport boosts our national response to Covid-19.”
He also committed to fast-track the launch of drone trials between the mainland and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight to ensure it is equipped to tackle the virus.
And he announced a new Transport Support Unit, with thousands of volunteers and vehicles placed on standby to assist front-line responders during the crisis.
Four aircraft owned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency are among the assets available to the unit, while Highways England can release control vehicles for potential use as mobile coronavirus testing centres.
Network Rail has 8,500 vans and lorries which can be used to transport essential items.
Mr Shapps said: “Essential supplies are continuing to flow well, but operators are facing challenges as fewer people travelling means less capacity to move goods.
“Today’s action will help ensure all parts of the UK have the capacity they need and, following on from our action to support the rail and bus sectors, it shows how this Government is acting to protect the transport links the country relies on.
“Now more than ever we need to work closely together, and the new Transport Support Unit stands ready to help our front-line staff and deliver crucial supplies.”
But Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon said: “The Government’s transport package has left more questions than it’s answered. Few will be convinced that this secures jobs and the long-term viability of key transport sectors, essential for any future economic recovery.
“Their support to light rail merely papers over the cracks without providing funding to make up for the shortfall in income.
“They’ve failed to secure all the key ferry ports they should have such as between Holyhead and Dublin. And they’ve failed to give bus operators the clear guidance they need to ensure that drivers are safe in their vehicles.
“This announcement is not the response of a Government that’s got a well thought through plan.”