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

Examination of witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)



  420.  And local authorities, the various grants and the budgets, will be able to have additional credit approval, it is possible for them to vire it into other Departments; do you monitor that, and what is the consequence to an authority that does not use that money on transport-related issues?
  (Mr Ballard)  All Departments that benefit or contribute, whichever way you put it, to the Revenue Support Grant system and the associated funding of local authorities, do, obviously, monitor what actually local authorities spend the money on, at the end of the day, and it is always a trade-off, as you will know from your own experience, between wanting to ensure that money is spent in conformity with the expected allocation, while on the other hand, respecting local authorities' redetermination at the margin of priorities in their local circumstances. So it is always a balance.

  421.  So if something appears on a regular basis but never happens?
  (Mr Ballard)  I think one would be asking questions as to why that was so, and certainly one would pursue it with the individual authority.


  422.  Can I ask you, before we leave roads, a question on principle. If the Government wants to cut down road traffic, as it says it does, wants to reduce road traffic growth, then why is it going to build more new roads, because we know when you build a new road you get more increase in your traffic?
  (Mr Ballard)  I think, if you will forgive me, the answer I would give you to that is that you really ought to await the White Paper, which will explain all.

  423.  Oh dear, Mr Ballard. If we use the existing networks more efficiently, would that obviate the need to have major new additions?
  (Mr Ballard)  Certainly, that is something that is being examined very carefully. Certainly, Ministers attach a lot of importance to getting the best out of the existing infrastructure, making the existing infrastructure as effective as possible.

Chairman:  Now then, Mr Forsythe, why do you not have a go and see if you can get any answers on rural transport.

Mr Forsythe

  424.  Yes, can I ask you about rural public transport. How does the additional funding for the rural bus services and the community-based transport schemes, which were announced in the March 1998 Budget, compare with the existing levels of the expenditure on that sector?
  (Mr Brearley)  They are a very significant addition to the current levels of spending on rural bus services, about a doubling.

  425.  You mean, they are higher; is that what you mean, they are higher?
  (Mr Brearley)  Yes.

  426.  How much higher?
  (Mr Ballard)  Twice as high.

Mr Bennett:  Twice nothing.

Mr Forsythe

  427.  How will the effect of the additional spending be assessed, to ensure that it benefits the rural communities cost-effectively?
  (Mr Brearley)  The bulk of the money, the £50 million is a complete national figure, the English share is, in fact, about £42 million, and the bulk of that, £32 million, or so, there is an Order before Parliament at the moment to distribute to authorities, roughly speaking, under a formula of rurality. And what authorities are being asked to do is to spend that money on either additional bus services or new enhancements of existing services in rural areas, and they are being asked to get genuine improvements in service through the use of the money, and what they do with it will be audited, that is the bulk of the money, as I say. There are then two smaller schemes, roughly speaking, in England, £4-5 million each, one of which will be a rural bus challenge scheme, I suppose.


  428.  What, to challenge anybody to put a bus in rural areas?
  (Mr Brearley)  No. It will be for local authorities to put forward proposals for innovative rural bus services, of one kind or another, so jointly-run facilities, or dial-up, all sorts of things, and, in fact, it will be possible to spend on capital as well as current, so waiting facilities, or interchange, call-up, timetable displays, things of this sort. Finally, there is a further £4 million for community-based transport schemes, which, again, will be developed in detail a little later in the year, and which is really centred around volunteer-operated transport arrangements in rural areas, initiatives of that kind, much more locally-based, and in many cases brought forward by parish councils, very probably.

Mr Forsythe

  429.  What action will be taken then to ensure that the additional money is used to provide a lasting benefit and that the services are not withdrawn after the three years are up; what action will you take, if it is not done?
  (Mr Brearley)  Clearly, that is the intention, that things should go on, and the commitment was, of course, only to the time horizon of present budgeting, as it were, and one cannot be certain what is going to happen beyond it, but one's expectation would be that this will get incorporated in the base as time goes on. This is all against a context where, as I say, this is a very large increase in what is actually spent on supporting rural bus services directly by bus subsidy, in the overall context of, in England, the role of fuel duty rebate, of concessionary fares, the support that that gives to bus companies, and including urban bus subsidy grants, as well. Those three things in total do come to about £1 billion, to put things in perspective.

  430.  Yes, but what action will be taken if that does not happen; what action will be taken if the work that has been done or the money that has been given is not used properly and it is not used for a long-lasting scheme?
  (Mr Brearley)  I suppose it is possible that some of the schemes will, so to speak, simply not be good enough, or they will fail for lack of support, or prove to have been the wrong sort of scheme, whatever, in which case the money will hopefully be available for further and different schemes of the same sort, but schemes which are a success, one would hope, there will go on being support available, so far as it is needed.

Mr Pickles

  431.  Mr Brearley, I would be most interested if you could just say something about this formula of rurality; what is it, do you get so many points for the number of hens you have got, or, if you listen to The Archers, six points?
  (Mr Brearley)  Sadly, no.

  432.  What is it, just tell me all about this?
  (Mr Brearley)  The criterion that has been used, and, as I say, the grant is in front of Parliament at the moment, it is a distribution to local authorities on the basis of their population living outside settlements of 3,000 people or more, as shown by the 1991 Census, so it is to do with the proportion of their population they have got living in small settlements.

  433.  And this £4 million for the rural parishes, for transport, what kind of a scheme is envisaged, what would be a typical scheme, under this?
  (Mr Brearley)  There is, I understand, a very wide range, but it might be a vehicle of a suitable kind being made available which would be driven by volunteers, or by a network of volunteers, something of that kind, might be quite a good example.

  434.  Yes, £4 million, it is what it cost to get your computers to speak to one another, so we are not talking about something that is going to actually revolutionise rural life as we know it, there is not likely to be a sub-plot in The Archers to say they have got their little rural bus?
  (Mr Brearley)  They might well, I should think, but, I agree with you, £4 million is £4 million.

Mr Bennett

  435.  Can I just ask, how does the rurality factor compare with the sparsity factor that is involved in the Standard Spending Assessment?
  (Mr Brearley)  I am not sure whether it is the same. It is certainly the case that, in devising this approach, there was a lot of discussion with those who manage the SSA formulae about what the best sort of approach was to capture the element which Ministers wished the scheme to capture, which is, indeed, about rurality.

Mr Pickles

  436.  So it will be a sliding scale, will it, the scarcer it is the more they are likely to get?
  (Mr Brearley)  The more population they have got in rural areas, so defined.

Mr Stringer

  437.  How many people do manage to calculate, fiddle, the SSA, RSG, settlements for local government?
  (Mr Brearley)  This goes rather outside my field.

  438.  We are talking about part of it, so I just wondered, the total calculation, how much it costs in terms of personnel?
  (Mr Brearley)  The SSA calculations?

Chairman:  I think we should ask Mr Ballard that.

Mr Bennett

  439.  There is only one person who understands it in the whole country, so it will not be all that expensive?
  (Mr Brearley)  I used to run this area, actually.
  (Mr Ballard)  There is no difficulty in telling you how many people are engaged in running the local government finance system, and within that how many people are calculating the SSA.

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