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


Examination of witnesses (Questions 520 - 539)

WEDNESDAY 1 JULY 1998

MR JOHN BALLARD, MR CHRIS BREARLEY and MR DAVID ROWLANDS

Chairman

  520.  Yes. How many major bus companies do tender for the routes?
  (Mr Ballard)  I do not know the answer to that. I can find out for you.

  521.  So you will include that in your note?
  (Mr Ballard)  I will, yes.

  522.  Can I ask you how much is expected to be invested in Automatic Vehicle Location technology in the next financial year for LT Buses?
  (Mr Ballard)  I fear I am going to add to my note by giving you that as well.

  523.  Then let me give you one or two more bits of homework. We would like to know the savings expected to be made by bus companies and LT Buses through the more efficient use of resources, and we would also like to know how LT Buses ensure the savings made are reinvested in the network? And if I could finally give you one little tiny bit to take away, why are LT Buses failing to achieve most of the service quality targets?
  (Mr Ballard)  I think there are two reasons. One, they are failing on some of the things that are within their direct control, and we are certainly addressing with London Transport how that can be sorted out. The second is that there are some of the targets which are affected by conditions which are largely outside their control, so timeliness, for example, will be affected by traffic congestion, and so on.

  524.  But if they are meeting only one out of 11, they are not doing terribly well, are they?
  (Mr Ballard)  They are meeting two out of 11.

  525.  Oh, well, a 100 per cent increase on what we believed; my goodness.
  (Mr Ballard)  Which I am sure will be welcome to the Committee. But, secondly, the degree to which targets are missed are, in some cases, actually very small. I am very happy to include in the note that I will give you an analysis which shows the degree to which targets have been missed, in some cases, for example, the external cleanliness of buses, the target has been missed by 1 per cent. I think in the important target of excess waiting time, where the target is 1.5 minutes, the actual performance is 1.8 minutes. So although the targets in some cases have been missed the margin is actually very small.

  526.  Yes. The whole point of having a target, however, is that you hit it?
  (Mr Ballard)  The other point of a target is you should not have easy targets, you should have targets which are demanding, and therefore, I think,——

  527.  So really we have been too cruel and we have not only not given them enough money but we have actually given them targets which were too tough. I am beginning to completely reconsider my view of the way in which the Department behaves.
  (Mr Ballard)  I did not say that they were too tough, I said that they should be demanding, so that we actually see some improvement.

Mr Bennett

  528.  They do not include emissions, do they?
  (Mr Ballard)  Emissions; no.

Chairman

  529.  Now then, we would like to talk to you about the two marine agencies, the Maritime Safety Agency and the Coastguard Agency. What benefits does the Government expect there to be from merging these two to form the Maritime and Coastguard Agency?
  (Mr Ballard)  Mr Rowlands will respond.
  (Mr Rowlands)  The least interesting benefit is some modest saving in administrative costs simply from merging two agencies of the order of a quarter of a million pounds a year. But the decision was not taken to merge the agencies because it saved small sums on administration, the much more interesting potential—could I explain it in terms of fishing vessel safety, which is one way of looking at it.

  530.  Well, yes, we are going to be interested in Coastguards as well as fishing vessels, but do explain it any way you like, Mr Rowlands, as long as it is clear?
  (Mr Rowlands)  Fishing vessels are a sector where, however you look at it, the safety performance is poor and getting worse. The responsibility for the safety of fishing vessels rests, under the old structure, with the surveyors in what was the Marine Safety Agency, but they did not have much presence on the coast. On the other hand, you had a Coastguard Agency with quite a major presence on the coast, both in terms of sector officers and in terms of the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres. And the potential benefits from merging the two into a single agency is to open the potential for using the Coastguard, who have the presence on the coast, to reinforce and supplement the work of the surveyors, for example, who did not have that presence. Who is it that regularly sees fishing vessels, in this case; the answer is local coastguards, not surveyors going along from a marine office once in a while.

  531.  No, except that you are, of course, cutting down on the coastguards and moving them around so you have got larger and larger areas where there are not local coastguards?
  (Mr Rowlands)  No decision has yet been taken to reduce the number of Rescue Centres or to reduce the number of coastguards.

  532.  No, that was not what I asked you, Mr Rowlands.
  (Mr Rowlands)  We are not cutting—no decision has been taken to close Centres, there has been no reduction in the number of coastguards, and, indeed, the number of uniformed coastguards has increased in recent years, by comparison with the previous position.

  533.  And do you include assistants in that; when you say "uniformed coastguards", exactly what does that definition include?
  (Mr Rowlands)  That includes the new category of Coastguard Watch Assistant, who replaced the auxiliaries who were in Rescue Centres.

  534.  Yes, so we are not talking about coastguards in the normal sense of the word.
  (Mr Rowlands)  Sorry, I am talking about coastguards in the normal sense of the word.

Chairman:  Yes, you are talking about people who replaced the auxiliaries.

Mr Donohoe

  535.  Going back to the fishing boats thing, you are shifting the emphasis from the surveyor to surveillance on a sort of `daily use of' basis, rather than what was always applied, and very important, which was the annual survey. Are you telling me that fishing boats are now not any longer given a survey on an annual basis?
  (Mr Rowlands)  No. What I was saying was that the Coastguard, who do have the continuous presence on the coast, can be used to supplement the surveyors' effort. It will continue to be the case that fishing vessels will need an annual survey, it will continue to be the case that surveyors have responsibility for the safety of those fishing vessels, but they are not there potentially day in and day out in a particular fishing port, they are moving around, literally, in terms of which particular piece of surveying work they are doing that day. It is the local Coastguard who still has that day-to-day presence. And what you get from an annual survey of a fishing vessel may or may not tell you what state it is in three or six months later.

  536.  What has been the levels of staffing in both, more particularly on the surveying side, since the merger of the two agencies; how many surveyors are there today and how many were there a year ago?
  (Mr Rowlands)  We need to write to you about that; the numbers have come down.

  537.  The numbers are down. So that is why you are now transferring this responsibility, from what is absolutely fundamental, from an annual survey basis to having to have a wee look at a fishing boat if it floats by?
  (Mr Rowlands)  Let me be clear. There is no suggestion that the annual survey of fishing vessels will cease.

  538.  But it cannot be as high a quota?
  (Mr Rowlands)  But it is not good enough, just looking at a fishing vessel once a year and expecting the other 364 days of the year that things will be okay, because the safety record of the fishing vessel industry shows that things are not okay, it gets worse year by year. It has a worse safety record than coal-mining, construction, and it is getting worse year by year.

Chairman

  539.  So you have given specific instructions to the Coastguard now that they should——
  (Mr Rowlands)  I do not give instructions. This is a question for the Chief Executive, under the oversight of Ministers.


 
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