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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580 - 589)



Mr O'Brien

  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 are saying?
  (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.

Mr Bennett

  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.

Mr Bennett

  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 with 1998-99.
  (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.

Mr Olner

  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.

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