Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560
WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001
MR T MATTHEWS
560. Are you contemplating charging at any point
in the future?
(Mr Matthews) For the removal of vehicles?
(Mr Matthews) No, we have no plans to do that.
562. What about charging people for using safe
(Mr Matthews) No; there is no plan to do that.
563. It would not be unheard of, however, for
Treasury to change their minds about the provision of a service,
(Mr Matthews) That would be a decision for Ministers
at the time.
564. It would also have an effect on the motoring
organisations in this country.
(Mr Matthews) Yes. I am sure that Ministers would
want to use the consultative organisations like the Motorists'
Forum to discuss any such matter. There are no plans at this stage
to raise any charges in this area.
565. Has the formula been reviewed for the basis
on which roundabouts are constructed?
(Mr Matthews) Not as far as I am aware.
(Mr Thorndike) We do have an ongoing research programme
into areas like roundabout design and as research is completed
that is put into our design standards. I cannot recall when the
last change was made but we can find that out.
566. I should be interested if you could. I
understand the formula is based upon the number of fatalities
before a roundabout will be constructed on a particular road.
(Mr Thorndike) No, that is not the case. There are
two different aspects there. You were talking about roundabout
design and that is the physical design of the roundabout. The
justification of when you put one in is done on a comprehensive
approach. It follows appraisal where you do look at safety, economy,
environment, accessibility and integration. Those are the factors
which are taken into account in assessing whether to implement
a roundabout. You then look at the detailed design.
567. Just to spare your blushes you may wish
to write to me on this next point. I gather that it was announced
and expected that the roundabout at the junction of the A19 and
the A1237, the outer York ringroad, was expected to proceed today;
sometime this week certainly. It has now been postponed because
no contracts have been signed, no contractors have been appointed,
yet it is understood that the work is going to go on for some
seven months, which seems a staggeringly long time. I should be
interested to know whether it is in connection with the Park and
Ride scheme and the basis on which it has been agreed that particular
roundabout will be expanded when it was very difficult to put
a roundabout in place in Easingwold.
Chairman: We shall expect you to communicate
directly with Miss McIntosh on that.
568. May I return to the point about resurfacing?
The Highways Agency has gone on the record of this new resurfacing
programme, particularly resurfacing concrete roads. What proportion
of the ten-year programme money is going to be spent on resurfacing?
(Mr Thorndike) I can tell you how much is going to
be spent on the maintenance side. I do not actually have with
me the amount for resurfacing.
569. We will accept another note on that.
(Mr Thorndike) Yes, I can do that.
570. I want to bring you back to money. Is it
true that you have handed back about £3.5 million to the
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions for the
(Mr Matthews) In 1999-2000 yes, a sum of £3.5
million running cost was passed back.
571. How many staff did you originally think
you were going to need for your new duties?
(Mr Matthews) The estimate made at the time of the
spending review 2000 for the immediate period was an additional
572. And you have not been able to recruit them.
(Mr Matthews) We have not been able to recruit all
of those, no. What gave rise to at least part of the £3.5
million being handed back was the fact that the timing of the
money and the ability to appoint the staff were not properly in
573. Why? If you need staff presumably you advertise
and if they have the qualifications you appoint them.
(Mr Matthews) That is right, but there was a delay,
as I understand it, in receiving confirmation of the allocation
so the recruitment process did not start as soon as was anticipated
when the allocation was set. Also it was not possible to recruit
to those levels immediately.
574. Has that put enormous stress on your existing
(Mr Matthews) What was done was that we appointed
a mix of in-house staff and Agency and consultancy staff to support
the development of the programme. Our view is, certainly for the
work we were required to undertake last year and into this year,
that we had sufficient resources to undertake that. We are now
trying to rebalance that between numbers of staff we employ directly
and the numbers employed through consultancies.
575. I am not clear now. The Agency thought
it needed a certain number of people. It did not recruit those
people. Considerable stress was put on your existing staff, which
caused confusion and difficulty, so much so that you had to hand
back the money you were given to recruit staff because you had
not done what you were asked to do. Now you say you are trying
to rebalancewhatever that meansin order to get a
better result. Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Matthews) No, what I am saying is because we are
cash limited annually we could not spend
576. You have always been cash limited annually.
You do not operate differently from the way you ever have. You
are a First Steps Agency.
(Mr Matthews) We were given an allocation too late
in the year to be able to recruit the numbers of staff, so we
did not need the money in that year. We did need it in subsequent
years because by the time we had recruited the mix of permanent
and contract staff that money was required in the budget on an
577. Did that affect your ability to do your
(Mr Matthews) No, it did not affect our ability to
deliver our programmes either in that year or
578. Not at all? It did not cause any difficulty
for your existing staff.
(Mr Matthews) I do not want to run with the kind of
balance we have had recently of full-time and contract staff.
It was an understandable and justifiable response to getting staff
in post, but now that we have greater security over the medium
term on the scale of our programme, we can recruit with more confidence
on a permanent basis and lessen the need for the contract staff.
It is quite legitimate to use contract staff to cover short-term
gaps in particular areas of skill where you have particular levels
of work to achieve but not over the longer term. That is what
I said we were trying now to rebalance.
579. So can you give your staff some genuine
guarantees that in future they are going to find it possible to
work efficiently, they are not going to be given two or three
times more work than they can achieve and you will not be looking
for alternative means of trying to bring people in on a short-term
(Mr Matthews) We shall only use short-term contracts
where a particular skill is needed which we cannot fill from our
own staff or through recruitment or where we need that job done
on a short-term basis. Certainly in all the discussions I have
had with trade unions they accept that it is not sensible to bring
in a lot of full-time staff if they are tackling short-term issues
which then means we are potentially overmanned in different areas.
Those are discussions we have with the staff side.