Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001
MR T MATTHEWS
580. Having noted the point you just made there
and the discussions you had with the workers' representatives,
would it be that the structure within the Agency for recruiting
staff and maintaining staff needs overhauling? Do you need to
look at it again? Is it the structure which is weak? Is this the
reason why you could not use the money to get staff? Is it because
of the structure?
(Mr Matthews) I am sure there are ways in which we
could improve our recruitment processes but I do not think that
was the major problem we faced in the back end of 1999-2000. It
was the delay in getting security on the resource actually being
there and problems in the market for those particular skills,
recruiting those at very short notice.
581. Are you saying the Department did not react
to the request for extra staff early enough? Is that what you
(Mr Matthews) I would not put it in that way. The
process of the money being confirmed got out of line with our
need to recruit those staff very quickly. Taken over the two financial
years that gave us a reasonable amount. It was this shuffle we
all have to live with at the end of the financial year which meant
we did not need that amount of resource in that financial year,
but we did need it on an ongoing basis.
582. Was that your fault or the Department's
fault that there was a shambles over the allocation of money?
(Mr Matthews) I am not clear on the timing of that
and what the substance of those discussions was. The fact is that
by the time the Agency had clearance to recruit, it was almost
certainly too late.
583. It is a good question. Do the Department
when they are monitoring what you do say to you that you have
it wrong and therefore they are not pleased with the results?
(Mr Matthews) In these circumstances the Department
were more than happy to be able to take the money back.
Chairman: That is not exactly unique. I have
never known a Treasury which was not happy to take money back.
584. But actually the road condition both on
trunk roads and on motorways deteriorated during this period when
the money was not being spent.
(Mr Matthews) No, that is not the case.
(Mr Thorndike) No. If you look at the national road
maintenance condition survey on trunk roads it has been a broadly
level standard, consistent standard since 1994.
585. In real terms. We do want to know what
you have spent on road maintenance in 2001-2002 by comparison
(Mr Thorndike) Broadly the money is the same. Why
I say broadly is that to provide a detailed answer we have to
go back and we have to take out all the London figures, because
on 3 July a significant proportion of our network was transferred
to Transport for London so there is not a direct comparison between
the published figures for 1998-99 and 2000-2001. Broadly the level
of funding is the same.
586. When do you expect your refocusing on maintenance
and the allocation of additional funds for maintenance to lead
to an improvement in the condition of trunk roads?
(Mr Matthews) We have a target which is that no more
than seven to eight per cent of the network needs to be maintained
at the end of every year. That is the way of assuring us and the
public that the state of the highway is in a good condition. That
is what we deliver and we have spending plans over the next three
years to do that.
587. How do you work that out? I have a trunk
road leading up to a motorway. The foliage is never cut down at
the side of it, it blocks signs, the gutters have silt in and
all the drains seem to have silted up. You try to get you people
moved to get something done and there is just nothing. It really
does annoy me that you are not spending this money on maintenance.
How many inspectors do you have going out and looking at the condition
of the trunk roads?
(Mr Thorndike) On the condition of all our trunk roads,
there is a safety patrol every day and then further detailed inspections
are done, depending on the category of road and the type of structure.
588. Are you sure that is being done?
(Mr Thorndike) Yes, it is being done.
589. I need from you a short note which tells
us the difference between the two sets of figures.
(Mr Thorndike) Yes.
Chairman: You have been very patient. Thank
you very much. We are grateful to you.