Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  At the Public Accounts Committee Hearing on Wednesday 23 January 2002 on Policy Development: Improving Air Quality, I agreed to provide the Committee with a note covering a number of points in more detail.

Question 105: Cost to local Authorities of acquiring expertise to carry out reviews and assessments of air quality?

  The Committees wanted to know how much it cost local authorities to acquire the necessary expertise to carry out their reviews and assessments of air quality. As the Committee highlighted, air quality modelling and monitoring is a highly complex task. It is also an area in which many local authorities had relatively little expertise prior to the introduction of the local air quality management regime.

  Part IV of the Environment Act, which imposed the new requirements on local authorities, came into force in December 1997. Prior to this, the then Department of the Environment had undertaken a pilot study in 1996-97 with a number of local authorities in different regions of the UK (the so-called "first phase" authorities). The aims of this pilot phase were to test the new system and to establish exactly how much of a burden the new duties were likely to place on local authorities in staff time and other costs.

  The findings of this study were published in a report ("First Phase Air Quality Review and Assessment: A Summary", DETR, March 2000, ISBN 0-7058-1777-6). In the light of the experience of the "first phase" authorities, a "new burdens transfer" was arranged so that the Local Government Finance Settlement in 1997 included new resources for local authorities to cover the likely costs of their new duties. The total provision was (and continues to be) a little over £2 million per year for authorities in England, with broadly similar arrangements and levels of funding applying in Wales and Scotland. As the Committee will be aware, however, resources for local authorities are not ring-fenced and final decisions on the precise level of expenditure are a matter for each local authority.

  In addition to the resources made available through the Local Government Finance Settlement, this Department has made available supplementary credit approvals to local authorities in England to cover the capital costs associated with the purchase of, often expensive, monitoring equipment and modelling software. Approximately £2.5 million per year has been made available every year since 1997, with bids from individual authorities being appraised on an annual basis.

Question 107: What powers are to be given to Local Authorities to penalise motorists who fail roadside tests?

  The Committee were interested in the new powers that are due to be given to those local authorities which have designated air quality management areas to allow them to undertake roadside vehicle emissions testing and to penalise motorists if their vehicles fail the test. I can confirm that the draft Regulations to bring these powers into effect were issued for consultation by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) in October 2001. The DTLR are currently considering the responses to the consultation paper, and intend to lay the Regulations within the new few months. They will also be making available additional funding to local authorities to enable them to adopt the new powers.

  Details of the proposed penalty structure were set out in the consultation document. The basic level of penalty proposed was £60, rising to £90 if the penalty was not paid within 28 days. It was proposed that the penalty would be reduced to £30 if the motorist could demonstrate:

    —  That he/she had passed an MoT test within the previous 6 months; or

    —  That he/she had taken all reasonable steps to maintain the emissions standard of the vehicle; or

    —  That he/she had rectified the fault within 14 days of the offence.

  It was proposed that the penalty should be waived altogether if the motorist could demonstrate both that the vehicle had been properly serviced prior to the offence and that the fault had been rectified within 14 days of the offence. In the light of comments received during the consultation period, the Government is also considering the possibility of reducing the fine to £30 if the motorist can demonstrate that the vehicle has been legally scrapped within 28 days of the offence.

Question 149: Disaggregating on a regional basis the number of deaths brought forward in the UK as a result of short-term exposure to air pollution

  The Committee wanted to know whether it was possible to disaggregate on a regional basis the total number of deaths brought forward in the UK as a result of short-term exposure to air pollution (as set out in figure 10 of the NAO report). In brief, as the attached Annex from our contractors shows, we estimate that the number of deaths broadly follows the distribution of population but is also influenced by the variations in pollutant concentration. This means, for example, that on a per-population basis, a slightly higher percentage of deaths are brought forward by air pollution in London and the rest of England than in Wales and Scotland.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 24 May 2002