Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



Mr Gray

  80.  Perhaps as a favour then, would it be possible for you to let the Committee have, as soon as the Comprehensive Review is out, the figures up to 2000, and, on the same table, for comparison and interest purposes, the figures which were already published in the previous Report; it is this question of trends, is the thing, it is the change from one to the other?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  Yes. I see the point, yes.

Mr Gray:  That would be helpful.

Dr Whitehead

  81.  Can I return briefly to the Ordnance Survey. I am not sure I quite understand which takes precedent. Is it the case that the Government intends to produce a National Interest Mapping Plan after it has appraised the possibilities of moving to a trading account, or is it going to appraise the possibilities of a trading account after it has concluded what the extent of a National Interest Mapping Plan will be?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I think they are two sides of the same coin. The present area is, effectively, a deficit financing regime. They have costs of the order of £80 million a year, they recover a large proportion of that, and an agreement is made to fill the difference. The difference largely reflects the fact that there are certain areas, or certain forms of mapping, for which there is no commercial demand, but which are, nevertheless, necessary for good governance. What the National Interest Mapping Service Agreement is trying to find is that missing customer, we will call it The Government, those services that the Government buys from Ordnance Survey to reflect this wider public interest. Once it has done that, it then has, in effect, customers for its output, it has got its customers for its commercial output and customers for its non-commercial output, and that opens up the possibility then of running it as a trading fund.

Mr Olner

  82.  But the Government has got copyright on all that they produce?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  They have, yes.

Dr Whitehead

  83.  With respect, the idea of the Government as a customer suggests that the Government, therefore, is going to pay a certain sum of money for the National Interest Mapping Contract, which will otherwise be seen as an underwriting for the work of the Ordnance Survey. If the Ordnance Survey has gone to a trading account then there will be no underwriting, and presumably the National Interest Mapping Agreement will be taken from the work of the trading account; is that not right?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I am not quite sure I really understand that. There are certain kinds of maps that they produce and can sell to the public, to utilities, to local authorities, and they generate revenues from that, and then there is certain mapping work which the Government wants done because it is in the national interest but no-one else will do, and that then is——

  84.  Yes, but does the Government then pay a sum to the Ordnance Survey for those maps, which will be shown separately in the trading account?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  The receipts coming from the National Interest Mapping Service will appear in the accounts as a contract with Government, in the same way as it has a contract with local authorities or public utilities.

  85.  But that contract at the moment is shown as an underwriting from the Government?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  At the moment, it is a pure piece of deficit finance; we give a grant——

  86.  It appears as a 3.8, or 6.7, or 13.7 Vote?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  Yes, but you are using the term "underwriting", which I am not sure I—it is underwritten because it is a Government body.

  87.  What appears to me to be the case is there is a piece of conjuring going on here, whereby the underwriting, that there is presently, includes the National Interest Mapping Contract, which is included in the deficit finance. When you say then that Ordnance Survey will go to a trading account, what you then do is say, "Ah ha, this is a customer instead" and so the money that would have gone to the underwriting is instead a customer contract for a National Interest Mapping Service, which presumably will then be determined by how much money you happen to have, in order to determine a National Interest Mapping Service, which suggests that the national interest will be determined by what finance you have available to protect the national interest?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I think the intention is to define the nature of the work that has to be done as non-commercial work and to put a value on it, and the benefit of this is that then, if it creates a better series of incentives for the Ordnance Survey, at present, if it greatly increases its recovery in its commercial activities, the likely result is that the Government will then simply reduce the amount of funding, rather than allowing the better performance of Ordnance Survey to be reinvested in producing a better service. And there is an encouragement then for Ordnance Survey to improve its performance, because it is a substantial beneficiary of that improved performance.

Mr Bennett

  88.  What you are actually telling us this morning is that there is a tax on maps, is it not, because you are saying that the public interest should be somewhere between £5 million and £15 million, but you are actually paying over less to the Ordnance Survey; so everyone who buys a map is actually paying something over to subsidise the Government's activity, a tax on maps, effectively?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  There is another variable, which is whether they are doing all the mapping work that they would like to do. Part of the agreement is that there is a plan for the updating of maps which will be included in the NIMSA, and one of the reasons that the payment, under the National Interest Mapping Service, may be higher than the current deficit is because there is a better product that has been bought, and certain work that is currently not being done will be financed under this mechanism.

Dr Whitehead

  89.  On the subject of maps then, can I draw your attention to page 37 of your Report, and there is a terrific map on that page, and I wonder if you could explain what are Objective 2 areas and what are Objective 5b areas on that map?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  Objective 1 areas are the most deprived, and in England the only one is Merseyside. Objective 2 are areas that are quite deprived.

Dr Whitehead:  They seem to have been deprived of any significant shading of their own, though, do they not?

Christine Butler

  90.  So we cannot distinguish, this is what we are saying, between 2 and 5?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  You may be right about that.

Dr Whitehead

  91.  The answer is yes, I think, is it not?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  Yes; and 5b are rural.

  92.  Do you think this could be elucidated?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  We can certainly produce a version of this map in which the colour contours are clearer than they are here.

  93.  You know which is Object 2 and which is Objective 5b. Okay; presumably, using Ordnance Survey to assist you. Could I now turn to page 44, and you will see there, in Figure 6.a, that you have allocated, for the Rural Transport Development Fund, an increase, I see, of £4.1 million between the estimated outturn in 1997-98 and the 1998-99 plans, which is very encouraging news for the Rural Transport Development Fund. If, however, you turn to page 47 and you look at Figure 6.e, and you look at the note at the bottom of that Figure, and you look at what that note applies to, which is the Countrywide Action Expenditure, which says: "This figure includes the Rural Transport Development Fund", the total sum appears to have gone up by only £2.1 million. So £2 million seems to have disappeared?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I think we have an answer, I am glad to say.
  (Mr Ballard)  We have an answer; whether or not you are happy with it you will determine. It is basically a reflection of changes made because of the merger and because of the Chancellor's Budget. If one looks at 6.a, obviously the Rural Transport Development Fund figures go up to 1997-98, basically unchanged, and then there is a step-change, to which you have referred, in 1998-99, and, as you say, in 6.e, you have got the Countrywide Action, which excludes the RTDF funding up to 1997-98, I think that distinction. Now because of the merger, the cost of the RTDF funding has transferred to the Countryside and Wildlife Vote, and therefore the Countrywide Action figure for 1998-99 has been increased, so that £7.6 million figure is made up of £1.6 million for the RTDF and £6 million for the Countrywide Action; that is the first change. Meanwhile, the Chancellor's Budget Statement made available a further £4.2 million for Rural Transport. Now this happened just as this Report was going to the printers, so we put that £4.2 million in with the Rural Transport Development Fund figures, in Table 6.a. So that is how you get to £5.8 million. Alright so far; that is £1.6 million plus £4.2 million. But we had not decided, at the time this went to print, as to how the money would be actually administered, and therefore we did not include it in the Countrywide Action line, because no decisions had yet been made on how it would be administered. Subsequently, we did decide that it should be dispersed through the RDC, and therefore the Countrywide Action total should now read £11.8 million, which is comprised of £7.6 million, as shown there, plus the £4.2 million announced by the Chancellor. If it will be helpful, I can give you a note which lays that out.

  94.  Would it not have been a good idea to put a note, saying that "We have not yet decided", in your chart?
  (Mr Ballard)  Ideally, yes, but this was simply a question of, these were all changes made at printers' proof, and therefore we were constrained by what was technically possible.

Mr Olner

  95.  Perhaps we could have a note to clarify that, please?
  (Mr Ballard)  Yes.

Dr Whitehead

  96.  Can I just quickly ask you to confirm also, on paragraph 7.15, on page 56, at the top of column two, I think it is fairly explicit from the text, that there actually have been no revisions, apart from PPG12, of any PPGs in 1997-98, and I wonder if you would like to comment on that?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I think that is right, I do not think we have changed any of the PPGs. We have issued consultation documents about the planning process, but I do not think we have revised any of the PPGs themselves.[3]

  97.  In terms of the altered priorities of the Department, is that not a little surprising?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  There are two PPGs that are at the Transport and Environment interface, PPG6, which is about the location of retail activity, and PPG13, which brings Sustainable Development and Transport together.

  98.  Transport journey times, is it not?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  Both those were the product of joint working between the two Departments, very, very explicitly so, and the reason they have not been changed is, I think we would regard them as being examples of the kind of working that we wanted to extend by bringing the two Departments together. So, in a sense, we have no regrets about PPG13, it represented probably the best example of its kind of the two Departments collaborating.

Mr Olner

  99.  Do you anticipate some increase in activity after the Government White Paper on Integrated Transport is published, in terms of PPGs?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I am not aware of any specific plans to revise them. I think we are reasonably satisfied with the way they are working, but we will obviously need to look at it.

3   Note by witness: A note in the Supplementary Memorandum provides further information on PPGS. Back

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