Examination of Witness (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2002
120. Would you like to give us a note on that?
Go away, look at it and give us a note on how we got into that
(Mr Steer) I shall be very happy to do that.
121. You have appointed two people to take part
in 23 studies and the Highways Agency are carrying out studies
into the same schemes in parallel to you. If we are talking about
a multi-modal approach, should there not be more co-ordination
between the agencies involved?
(Mr Steer) That may well be helpful and as we see
the implementation of study outputs, that is going to be needed,
122. Does that mean that you are actively involved
in discussions with other agencies to ensure that there is a co-ordinated
approach, that different priorities are not being followed?
(Mr Steer) We are not yet at the stage where we have
an agreed programme forward from these multi-modal studies. As
and when we have one, then yes, we will be involved with the other
agencies in working out the implementation approach.
123. May I take you back to the point you made
on freight and regional issues? Will you be making a statement
on the Central Railway Group proposals?
(Mr Steer) That has not been decided. We have provided
advice as asked to the minister at the end of September expressing
our view on Central Railways.
124. You have given advice.
(Mr Steer) We have.
125. But that has not been announced yet.
(Mr Steer) Correct. We have not published it.
126. When do you intend to publish it?
(Mr Steer) We do not as yet have any decision on whether
we shall publish it. It will await a ministerial decision and
then a view will be taken.
127. How important do you think it is that you
consult with regional development agencies?
(Mr Steer) It is hugely important. I and my team have
a lot of meetings with the regional authorities, with the development
agencies, the regional assemblies. It is one of the benefits of
the multi-modal studies that there has been a focus for understanding
the regional agenda, but we meet them on an ongoing basis in any
event. We have just gone through a series of regional consultations
which is just coming to an end which has lasted six weeks, day-long
meetings with each of the English regions and Wales and Scotland.
128. Do you think there is a problem when the
decision-making process and the financial responsibilities are
divorced from those making recommendations as in these studies?
(Mr Steer) Yes, it can lead to a position where it
is difficult to be confident that the recommendations have really
been weighed up because you have people who are going to look
for others for the funding. I do not think that strengthens the
process, but that is, I am afraid, the nature of the system we
have for the moment. There is no devolution of funding in any
very large measure to regional levels. It is growing, but we are
starting from a very modest base compared with the position in
most European countries. It means that if management of studies
is largely going to be a regional affair, as these multi-modal
studies have been, you do have the divorce between responsibility
for conclusions and responsibility for funding.
129. Do you think that is a particular problem
for the rail aspects?
(Mr Steer) Yes, I do.
130. More than the other parts.
(Mr Steer) Not necessarily more than the others. Obviously
local transport funding does not suffer from that problem, but
the trunk road highways problem, the highway network, would have
the same concern I should think.
131. A lot of the studies will come up with
very significant demands for an expansion of local rail services.
If that is in their plan, will you be able to find the capacity
and the case for the services to run?
(Mr Steer) What we will do is sit down and try to
work out whether that can be done.
132. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument,
that you can do it. Are you going to have enough money? Where
would you find the subsidies you need to support local transport
(Mr Steer) We will probably not have the money is
the straight answer.
133. Have you done any estimate by looking at
all the different rail elements of the different plans of the
kind of amounts we are talking about?
(Mr Steer) Yes, we have. The current estimate on capital
costs, based on the figures the studies have come up with which,
as we were discussing earlier we would guess would probably
134. We could argue about how they got to their
figures, but we need to have some idea how you are proceeding.
(Mr Steer) The capital element is over £7 billion
and there is an ongoing subsidy element -which is very poorly
estimated at this stage-but certainly runs into hundreds of millions
of pounds per annum.
135. They are very considerable amounts of money.
In your own estimate for the ten-year plan, you did not apparently
include inflation in the graphs you supplied us with. Is that
so? Perhaps you would look at that.
(Mr Steer) I will certainly look at it.
136. This Committee would benefit if you could
give us a very short note expanding on your evidence. It would
be helpful for us to know in simple terms whether, given the difficulties
that both the Strategic Rail Authority suffered and Railtrack
suffered because of other elements arising during the time the
studies were being prepared, you are absolutely certain that you
have looked carefully at all of the rail elements of the strategic
plans, that you are able to identify for us where the difficulties
arise, specifically in revenue and that you are also very clear
that you have discussed with the regions, with the people preparing
the studies, what your plans are for the development of the railway
(Mr Steer) I should be very happy to do that and indeed
answer any questions now on what we have concluded in relation
137. Have you made it clear to the people with
whom you were working at each point where the differences arose
between what they were proposing and what you were proposing?
(Mr Steer) We have made very clear in those instances
where we think that the study team is perhaps being over ambitious
in respect of budget and so forth; we have made that known.
138. So there is no reason to suppose that they
did not have that information when they prepared their final plan.
(Mr Steer) Yes; but again, these projects have taken
time and during the currency of these projects some things have
changed. I mentioned capacity utilisation as an example. It is
not necessarily such bad news because in some respects this opens
up opportunities to deliver study outputs which were not there
and not apparent to the study teams at the time.
139. You were fairly damning about these reports,
were you not? We questioned your predecessors as witnesses on
precisely what you had said and you were pretty dismissive of
(Mr Steer) What we were saying
and what I have said is that we have to draw a distinction between
the specific schemes, which when subject to further scrutiny may
not turn out to be such a hot idea and the role and clarity on
objectives for rail that the studies have identified. The former
is a weak area in our view. Unless there is a great deal more
funding, prioritised towards the study outputs, we are not going
to see those schemes implemented in the way in which they have
been identified in the studies.