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

Memorandum by UNISON (IT 156)


  UNISON is the largest trade union in the UK with some 1.3 million members covering both the private and public sectors. Our transport group represents members employed in three distinct sectors: Passenger Transport Executives, bus companies and British Waterways, while our local government group is representative of our members employed in airports and air traffic control, community transport and transport planning.

  As part of the Government's consultation process which led up to the publication of the White paper, UNISON produced its own public transport policy document, "Moving Forward" and submitted a response to the consultation paper.

  UNISON welcomes the White Paper and looks forward to the early introduction of legislation to bring to fruition the many good ideas and proposals contained within it.

  In the Summary of the White Paper published as an adjunct to the full document, there is usefully listed eight proposals. This UNISON response deals with what we believe are the key issues in the White Paper in the same order as that in the Summary.


  UNISON welcomes the proposal to require local authorities outside London to introduce Local Transport Plans (4.73 to 4.77). It is essential that a pro public transport bias is built into the local planning process. However, local plans in themselves will not be enough. Many of the innovations recommended will involve local authorities in extra expenditure and unless the Government provides access to new sources of income their potential will only occasionally be realised (see our later comments on this).

  In our view local plans should be an integral part of a Regional Transport Strategy and to that extent we welcome the government's proposals for these as set out in 4.50 to 4.60. UNISON believes that it is important to build on the examples of best practice that exist in the Passenger Transport Executive Sector.

  UNISON supports the creation of Regional Transport Authorities which would be responsible for drawing up the strategies. The Government's proposal to extend the role of the Regional Planning Conferences may be acceptable in the short term but eventually proper democratic structures should be set up as part of a move towards regional tiers of government for England. The position in Scotland and Wales is of course different in that the Parliament and Assembly respectively will exercise a strategic responsibility for transport.

  In drawing up local plans and regional strategies there should be full consultation with the various stakeholders, including operators, the business sectors, and user groups. UNISON has long argued for a strengthening in the user/passenger consultative provisions, especially for the bus industry where there is virtually nothing at the present time. What is needed is the establishment of Regional Transport Users Committees responsible for scrutinising and reviewing the development of regional transport strategies. Their membership should be drawn from the various stakeholders, including operators, industry, user groups and trade unions. Such a committee could also be given ombudsman functions to defend the rights of the passengers.

  UNISON welcomes the proposal to allow local authorities to introduce income generating schemes to raise funds to finance measures which will alleviate congestion and reduce pollution. However there is little justification in excluding from the pilot schemes the numerous out of town shopping centres and business parks. There is a great potential to establish partnerships between operators, local transport authorities, retailers/business park landlords and passenger groups. Access to these sites could be significantly improved by providing more frequent bus services paid for from the proceeds of the local taxation schemes.

  Local Transport Plans should also not overlook the potential offered by the UK's inland waterways. There are many good examples where British Waterways, local authorities and other private sector interests have formed partnerships to exploit the potential for waterway transport and to improve local economic growth.

  Elderly people and women in particular need to feel safe and secure when using public transport and the measures outlined in the White Paper, which UNISON supports, are designed to do that. But there will be some elderly people and women who will continue to feel insecure and unsafe, even where the risk of attack or harassment is very low. As part of their transport plans, therefore, local authorities and private transport operators need to co-operate on the introduction of additional measures, such as dial-a-ride schemes which offer safe door-to-door journeys.

  UNISON welcomes the support given to cycling and walking in the White Paper. We see these as an integral part of green commuter plans which all employers should adopt. To facilitate safer cycling local authorities should incorporate the aims of the National Cycle Network (co-ordinated by SUSTRANS) within their Local Transport Plan. A strategy for easier walking, including pedestrianisation, should also be included in the Plan.

  Municipal airports are also a key part of Local Transport Plans. But in order to compete internationally (and to improve the local infrastructure and facilities in general) they need access to sources of revenue. We welcome, therefore, the proposal to free soundly-financed local authority airports from public sector borrowing controls. In preparing its new policy on airports we urge the government to balance the impact of the growth in municipal air traffic on health and the environment with that on the local economy.


  The White Paper acknowledges (2.32) that "deregulation has not broken the spiral of decline in local bus use" and compares bus journeys outside London, which have fallen by about a quarter since 1986, with those in London, where buses are regulated, which have remained steady. Yet there is no proposal to re-introduce bus regulation outside London. Instead we are told that Quality Partnerships between private bus companies and local authorities are helping to change the image of the bus and to stem, even reverse, the decline in its use.

  Bus quality partnerships are a good idea, but the way in which they are currently implemented does not provide good value for money and they fail to generate the overall network improvements that are so badly needed if full transport integration is to be achieved. At present, quality partnerships are targeted on certain routes and services, consequently the money tends to go where the returns are most lucrative. A scheme is needed, therefore, which benefits the whole network.

  For outside London UNISON has advocated the adoption of route or service franchising. This would involve the appropriate public transport authorities awarding contracts to operators to run services in accordance with a comprehensive range of minimum standards. UNISON believes the enforcement of these standards should be the responsibility of the transport authorities and would include standards of service, safety, roadworthiness and employment practices. The responsibilities of the Transport Commissioners would also transfer to the transport authorities and be enforced via the franchise contract compliance process.

  The extra money for rural transport is most welcome. However, the funds will only be available for three years and as such this does not provide a secure basis for longer term planning. In UNISON's view the present level of extra funding would be best used to undertake a range of pilot schemes aimed at finding new and innovative approaches to the transport needs of the rural population.

  With regard to buses generally the Government should formulate and promote a set of national bus standards to improve the bus fleets within, say, five years. This would not only enhance the image and consequently the attractiveness of the bus, but would also provide a much needed boost to the bus manufacturing and engineering industries of the UK.


  UNISON would like to see the railways returned to public ownership and control, although with a different structure to that which was in place before the 1993 Transport Act. The aim must be the delivery of a reliable and safe service at a reasonable cost to the user, with proper protection and adequate reward for employees.

  The proposals set out in the White Paper, however, make it clear that while a greater measure of public control is to be exercised through the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), ownership is to remain in private hands. While this is regrettable we do believe that the SRA can play a key role in the development of an integrated transport strategy. It will have the opportunity to specify service levels and passenger benefits which fully reflect this, but it is essential that the railways are planned and are operated as a coherent network and not as a collection of different franchises.

  UNISON welcomes the announcement by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on 30 September that a shadow SRA will be set up as quickly as possible, and before legislation is introduced, to give strategic rail policy advice on how a better integrated railway can be achieved. A key part of its remit will be franchise renegotiation and renewal. This is important if the train operating companies are to improve on their poor performance to date. The threat of non-renewal will help to concentrate their minds.


  In UNISON's view, good quality public transport information is needed at all principal transport interchanges, including main line railway stations, bus stations, airports and ports of entry. However, making an impact in this area clearly requires the co-operation of a wide range of interested parties. Furthermore, introducing high tech information systems at these locations will require access to the building infrastructure. However, with some exceptions, these are now in the hands of the commercial interests who may have a different view as to what features should be installed at prime sites. Although UNISON accepts that a voluntary partnership approach is desirable, we believe it will be necessary for the Government to give transport authorities extra powers to require private businesses to comply with their plans.


  This measure is most welcome. However, local authorities who already provide an equivalent or better standard of support should be encouraged to continue to do so. It is particularly important that local authorities in rural areas where there are poor bus links take steps to improve the service and operate the concessionary fares schemes in a generous manner. Moreover, it is important to ensure that any new money does not simply substitute for existing money. The aim should be to secure a net increase in the support given to public transport and the elderly's needs in particular.


  UNISON welcomes the initiatives designed to reduce dependency on the car. We particularly welcome the Government's commitment to put its own house in order (5.23), by requiring all government agencies and departments to develop green transport plans by March 1999. In developing this initiative the Government should require employers to consult with recognised trade unions.

  Moreover this approach should be extended into the schools sector. The travel to school patterns of behaviour are a major contribution to urban congestion at peak times. All schools should be required to produce green travel to school plans in conjunction with their Governing Bodies and the Parent Teacher Associations. These should include measures to encourage children to walk or cycle in safety to school.

  UNISON believes that LEA provided school transport has an important part to play in delivering the Government's objectives. Already school buses provide an invaluable service in many parts of the country. A relatively small investment could see this developed and built upon to provide a wider range of flexible services. Such services should be planned to coincide with wider use of school and other buildings as part of the growing network of "out of hours" study support for children and young people.

  Similarly, UNISON welcomes proposals to extend the scope and function of school crossing patrol attendants. We have already made separate detailed comments to the Department, but we would wish to draw attention to the safety needs of schools and the proposed community crossing patrol attendants. In particular, we have urged the Department to undertake research into means of ensuring maximum visibility for such staff.

  UNISON believes that the resource implications of extending the use of school bus and school crossing patrol attendants need to be taken fully into account. Currently these staff receive hourly rates of pay for the hours they work. During the school holidays they receive retainer pay which is protected under the national Green Book agreement. The more flexible use of such staff will have cost implications both in relation to the number of staff employed and the hours for which they are paid. UNISON believes that local authorities should not be expected to meet these costs solely from within existing budgets.

  In addition transport authorities should encourage the development of green travel to work plans, particularly for out of town business parks and trading estates. It is disappointing therefore that the big out-of-town supermarkets are not to face any car parking charges. This will hinder the introduction of green travel to shop and work plans and undermine town centres. Local Authorities should also support brown field development wherever possible rather than exacerbate the problems caused by development on green field sites. As the White Paper says (4.168), "the aim of housing (and other) development should be to avoid undue reliance on the car".

  The Government should also support the extension of homeworking and teleshopping to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.


  Like the Government, UNISON accepts that the car is a practical means of transport for many people. However to do nothing to control the growth of car usage will ultimately kill off the attraction of the car. UNISON believes, for example, that schemes such as Park and Ride have yet to be fully exploited. Where they are well planned and properly resourced they can make a major contribution to reducing car commuting. In addition the installation of better quality information systems for motorists would help to manage urban congestion more effectively. If, for example, information on parking accessibility was displayed on the main entry routes into towns and cities then this would help in moving traffic volumes more efficiently and quickly.

  However, we also need to employ the stick as well as the carrot if we are to reduce traffic congestion and improve public transport. Local authorities should exercise more frequently their powers to restrict car parking and, if necessary, extend no-parking areas. To help public transport, notably buses, to move freely bus lane offences should be treated more seriously than they are at present.

  The Government needs to tighten the regulation of wheel clamping and car pounds. This is an area wide open to abuse and exploitation. Apart from the activities of private clampers on private ground most local authorities have contracted out their clamping and car pound services. Consequently, to control the excesses of some private operators, there needs to be national standards which can be monitored and enforced. These should encompass issues like the time allowed between the issue of a parking ticket, the fitting of a clamp and the towing away. Some control should also be exercised over the levels of penalty charges.


  UNISON supports the establishment of the Commission as an agenda setting forum to stimulate development and change. It would be a tragedy if the Commission served only to impede progress rather than to encourage it. In terms of its composition there should be representatives from all the key stakeholders, including the trade unions.


  UNISON is pleased to be given this opportunity to contribute to the Committee's consideration of the White Paper and we would be happy to give oral evidence in support of this written response.

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