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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 68)



  60. How are you going to compare value for money between various schemes, for example the West Midlands area study has suggested expenditure of £9.7 billion over 30 years whilst the South West Yorkshire study recommends £700 million with further unspecified expenditure on local transport. How are you going to work out priorities between these two regions?
  (Mr McMillan) A key way of working out priorities and working out in which order to fund things is to look at what the delivery agencies tell us about the affordability of the implementation of these schemes and the extent to which they help government meets its targets and deal with the local problems. I am not sure there is a very simple answer to the question you raise, but there is a process which is in train which will give ministers a balanced way of taking those decisions.

  61. So the agencies will not be overridden. If one of the studies suggests that the M6 should have an average speed of more than 50 miles an hour at all times, that decision is not going to be taken by the Highways Agency, it is one of the suggestions in the scheme. Are you telling us that kind of decision would still be taken on the basis of what the Highways Agency thought was useful for the whole country, not on the fact that there is a specific recommendation in a particular area which is based on the needs of that area?
  (Mr McMillan) The process going forward from the recommendations from studies to ministerial endorsement of packages of measures for an area is one which will involve ministers taking advice from delivery agencies and that advice from delivery agencies will deal with both the local factors which have emerged and have driven the local studies, but will also put on a national overlay of a coherence of networks overall, of a level of national funding which is available and so on. Once that position is taken, that will be the basis on which ministers will evaluate things going forward.

  62. Would I be unfair if I said it looks to me as though you are saying the delivery agencies will have the right to second-guess everything in the studies.
  (Mr McMillan) When the studies were set up, there was no absolute commitment that everything which they proposed and suggested would be funded and implemented.

  63. No, I am not suggesting every detail, every stage. What I am saying to you is if the delivery agencies are going to second-guess everything in the studies, why did they not do the studies in the first place themselves?
  (Mr McMillan) The delivery agencies were all associated with the studies as the studies were developed and going forward. They had opportunities.

  64. What you are telling us is that after it is all done, if the delivery agencies come back and say, they have looked at this particular study and it will not deliver what they want because it does not fit in with their funding or their overall decisions in terms of national policy, that will take precedence.
  (Mr McMillan) What I am saying is that when ministers take decisions about the packages which flow from the multi-modal studies, they will do so on the basis that they have these recommendations, these recommendations have come forward from the study teams, they have been endorsed locally, the delivery agencies have had a role in developing those schemes, so I wonder how many times they will be saying something which is markedly different. We shall see as time goes on; we shall see. Then ministers will take the advice of the delivery agencies so as to ensure that the schemes and packages which they endorse are things which hang together coherently, both for the local area and for the national interest and national strategy.

  65. It all sounds very beautifully dovetailed. No-one will forget the areas outside the study areas when they are talking about expenditure, will they?
  (Mr McMillan) No.

  66. That is going to be something which is of considerable importance to you because there are great gaps, are there not?
  (Mr McMillan) That is right. One of the things to remember is that there was no presumption that the multi-modal studies would have a budget within the ten-year plan. What ministers have been clear about throughout is that they would produce schemes and ideas for dealing with some of the most difficult problems which are out there on the network, so clearly they will be important in ministers' minds, but they will want to weigh the priorities emerging there with other activities in other parts of the transport network and come up with a coherent view of the whole, not just the parts.

  67. If I précis what is happening and say that multi-modal studies are meant to bring up a great deal of research, point up the difficulties in your own area, lay down a series of policies which they think will have a direct impact, but basically they will still be open to second-guessing by all the delivery agencies which could wipe out the whole purpose of their planning, would I be being unfair?
  (Mr McMillan) I am not sure I would use the word "second-guessing". What they are open to is further review and advice on their policies so the ministers can take an informed view.

  68. You might call it further review and I might call it second-guessing, but the reality is the same, is it not?
  (Mr McMillan) The reality is that these are schemes which are proposed and ministers will be considering and they will take advice before they reach their decisions.

  Chairman: On that helpful note, may I thank you very much for coming with your colleagues.

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Prepared 27 November 2002