Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 424 - 439)




  424. Good afternoon to you, and welcome. I wonder if I could ask you, Professor, to identify yourself for the record.
  (Professor Begg) David Begg, Commission for Integrated Transport.

  425. Do you have anything you would like to say to us before you begin to reply to our questions?
  (Professor Begg) Only that my mother asked me to pass on her kind regards to you.

  426. That is probably the most important piece of work that you will do today and I trust that you will return my warmest greetings to her. You have said that "with a fair wind" you think we are going to have three road user charging and one workplace parking levy scheme implemented during the Plan instead of 20. What are the implications of this for the Plan?
  (Professor Begg) We have had the economic consultants NERA work with us on this and they have advised us that up to 20-25 per cent of the Government's congestion reduction target is at risk. It is the difference between the Government achieving their target for six per cent reduction in congestion by 2010 or a slight increase in congestion.

  427. You will realise that the targets are a matter of considerable concern to us. You seem to think that the urban charging schemes are going to contribute three times the amount of congestion reduction that the Department does.
  (Professor Begg) We do. I think you should be aware of the different assumptions that are made and why the Department have come to very different conclusions from the ones that we have come to. The Department model does not include London and London is going to have a significant impact on the overall congestion reduction target. The Department's model also does not look at the side effects of congestion charging and they are just as important as the direct effects. I will give you an example. If a city were to introduce congestion charging it would lead to a modal shift towards bus transport and that would make bus transport more efficient and that would maybe push down fares and increase services and that would have an impact on helping to reduce traffic and congestion as well. The other point I would make in all of this is that there is now a consensus developing that while it was brave of the Government to set a congestion reduction target not many countries have gone that far yet. I do not think anyone would pretend that it is perfect by any means and I think the concern most people have is that even if the Government achieve their six per cent reduction in congestion by 2010 no-one is confident that people travelling on the roads will actually feel that reduction.

Mr Stevenson

  428. Professor Begg, your Commission is charged with monitoring progress towards the 10 Year Plan. I would like to ask you some questions about how you intend to monitor that. I realise we are two years into the Plan. Have you, for example, considered setting any targets or milestones so that we can measure the progress towards the objectives of the 10 Year Plan?
  (Professor Begg) It is two years since they announced it, but it only kicked in in April 2001, so the first anniversary is going to be this April. That is when we are intending to publish our report. What we have tried to do is to measure inputs, outputs and outcomes. We can start to get a feel for what is happening in inputs in terms of the money that is going into the 10 Year Plan. We can all monitor that and I would be interested to see what your report says on that. We know that local authorities, for example, have big increases in money, 68 per cent more in capital issued, so we can monitor that. We can monitor what local authorities are doing with that money. We have some concerns that there seems to be a lot more money feeding through to local authorities but in a lot of instances we are not seeing evidence that that has been spent in the areas where it should be spent. May I give one example: road maintenance. There is a lot of money going in but there is not a lot of evidence yet that it is feeding through to better road maintenance. We are trying to ask why is that?

  429. You have identified one area because it seems to us that the 10 Year Plan is predicated to a large degree on local authorities' local transport plans to implement that. In terms of the additional revenue that no doubt is welcome, many local authorities will argue that this is going to allow them to catch up on what they have not been doing before rather than to implement the Plan. When you publish your report in April will it be identifying such issues and will you be pointing towards what Government should do if they are going to meet their objectives?
  (Professor Begg) It is really important that we do that. If we are going to add any value to this process it is not enough for us just to produce some information on where the Government and the local authorities are not delivering. We have to come up with some really strong recommendations on what we can do to put things back together. We will be coming forward with recommendations on how we think local authorities can improve delivery and what the Government needs to do to work with them.

  430. You did say "strong recommendations" in your report to put things back together. Am I reasonable to conclude that already the evidence is that things do need to be put back together?
  (Professor Begg) The older I get the more I realise that things are not black and white in life and the Government have always got a tendency to over-estimate a new strategy document and the Opposition rubbish it too much, and it is always somewhere in between. I take the view that the Government want this Plan to be monitored because they want to change it, they want to adapt that plan to changing circumstances. We already know that in the last year there are a number of reasons why the Government have to re-visit the Plan and make some changes to it.

  431. Will your report be considering setting targets if the Plan is to be achieved?
  (Professor Begg) Yes.

Mrs Ellman

  432. In your assessment of what is happening, Professor Begg, will you be liaising with regional authorities, regional development agencies and the regional assemblies as part of your assessment of what has happened?
  (Professor Begg) Yes, we will. What we have started to identify is that the barriers to delivery are not just about are there enough resources going in, financial and physical. It is also about whether the institutional structure of government is right in Britain. We have real concerns about that. One of the sharp lessons we learned when we compared our transport system with other European countries was that it was not just that for a generation we have been investing a lot less; it was because we did not have the strong regional government, for example, that the Germans have in the lander system. An awful lot of the delivery of this is down to local authorities and local authorities are all too often too small to deal with some of the big strategic planning and transportation issues. The way round that is for them to form partnerships on congestion charging, to take one example, but partnerships are not always that strong in that they do not have a legal status.

  433. On the plans for bus use is the target of 10 per cent of bus patronage outside London too little?
  (Professor Begg) Yes.

  434. Is it attainable?
  (Professor Begg) The evidence that we have gathered is that this ten per cent target for England is far too low. We think it should be at least 20 per cent on the basis that the growth in bus patronage in London is pretty exceptional really but we have grave concerns about what has happened in some of the shire counties. We think the Government, when they are looking at changing the 10 Year Plan and making amendments to it, should look at regional targets for bus patronage and not just a national one for England.

  435. Do you think local authorities have enough revenue to fund non-profitable routes?
  (Professor Begg) No, I think there is a big problem developing here. I would be surprised if the Government did not try and allocate more money to local authorities to try and deal with the increase in costs of tender services and to plug gaps in the market. The difficulty is, can they ensure that local authorities will spend it on that? If you give more revenue to local authorities you can hint that you want it to be spent on this but at the end of the day there is local democracy and it is up to local politicians to determine how to spend it. I know there are problems in terms of more money needed for supported services, and there is a debate raging which I know you are all engaged in on whether there should be quality partnerships or contracts and I think these are important issues. However, the key issue is that if the Government wants to see pretty substantial growth in bus patronage beyond the ten per cent target that is set they have got to ask themselves a critical question. If they do not want to throw a lot more taxpayers' money at buses the only way they are going to do it is to encourage local authorities to introduce more car restraint, higher parking charges, fewer car parking spaces in city centres and a lot more bus priority than is coming in. All the evidence shows that Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, Edinburgh show phenomenal growth in bus patronage because there are really strong car restraint measures and good bus priority. In parts of the country that are showing really sluggish growth and a decline in patronage often you will find that there is very little car restraint. To me there is a crunch issue here for Government: how badly do they want a growth in bus patronage and are they prepared to send out the right signals? One way to achieve that is to build on these measures.

  436. If the costs of motoring in real terms decreased significantly in the way that is suggested in the Plan and the charging congestion schemes do not come into play as anticipated, what impact is that going to have?
  (Professor Begg) It means we are going to have more traffic and more congestion.

  437. How much? Have you got any measure?
  (Professor Begg) If you look, for example, at the 20 per cent fall in motoring costs, and I do not think the Government say that that is the forecast or the target; I think they said "on current trends this is the way things are going", then we are talking about a growth in traffic over the next decade of 17 per cent. If the Government decide they want to keep motoring costs constant then the growth in traffic is only 13 per cent, so it does have a significant effect. Our concern is, and I know it is a concern of this Committee, is the relative price of public transport and private transport. The problem in Britain is that we just look at private transport in a vacuum. The public's perception is that we have got the highest road taxation in Europe. We have not. We are much nearer the middle of the league table, but that perception has started to influence decisions that are made by local and central government on motoring taxes and motoring charges. What gives us great concern is that if you were a betting person you would put some money on the cost of motoring falling in Britain over the next decade but you would not put a lot of money on public transport fares falling.

  438. But can any government afford to ignore public perception?
  (Professor Begg) No, I think the politician who ignores public perception is like a businessman who does not want to make money. I think they do. My worry is that politicians' views on public perception are different from reality.

  Chairman: Now you are on dangerous ground.

  Mrs Ellman: Whose reality is it?


  439. Think seriously about what you are saying here.
  (Professor Begg) I can give you an example on that. The vast majority of the British public think that we have got the highest road taxation in Europe. We have not. If you look at the attitude on speed cameras, two-thirds of motorists welcome speed cameras and think they are really important. The perception that is generated sometimes by hostile media coverage gives a very different view. That is one of the reasons why we do not always just try and monitor what public opinion is. We try and monitor the difference between reality and perception, if that makes sense.

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