Memorandum by Merseytravel (RG 52)
1. Merseytravel is the operating name of
the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority (PTA) and the Merseyside
Passenger Transport Executive (PTE). As a Passenger Transport
Authority, Merseytravel is subject to the Government's best value
regime and, as such, represents itself as one of the "best
value authorities" alongside police, fire and national park
authorities, amongst others.
2. The changed nature of transport and its
delivery to citizens over the past 20 years means that there is
a need for a major review of Transport Authorities. The forthcoming
Local Government White Paper provides such an opportunity. Merseytravel
that Passenger Transport Authorities
must remain and do not fit neatly within any likely local government
that communities must have a much
bigger influence in their transport provision, through Passenger
3. Transport, unlike many other services,
does not recognise administrative boundaries. In the major conurbations,
Passenger Transport Authorities and Executives work across boundaries
and hence work within some complex partnership arrangements. Any
review of local government will inevitably have an impact on the
success of these partnerships.
4. Merseytravel welcomes this inquiry by
the ODPM Select Committee and, if it would assist in the inquiry,
Merseytravel would be pleased to appear before the Committee in
order to expand upon the proposals set out in this memorandum.
5. There are seven PTAs and corresponding
PTEs located in metropolitan areas of Great Britain, but Merseytravel
is unique in that, to the fullest extent permitted by law, the
PTA and PTE operate as a single organisation. All other PTAs and
PTEs still operate as separate entities. The integration of the
PTA and PTE on Merseyside began in July 1988, as a response to
the changing responsibilities of those bodies, following the advent
of the 1985 Transport Act. It was a radical step, driven forward
by the Labour-led PTA of the time, which has greatly enhanced
Merseytravel's ability to meet the changing demands of delivering
high quality public transport.
6. PTAs and PTEs were established nearly
forty years ago under the Transport Act 1968, which followed Barbara
Castle's 1966 Transport White Paper. Since then the powers and
roles of PTEs, and to a lesser extent PTAs, have been altered
but there has never been a fundamental review of their structures.
During the 1970s and 1980s, PTAs were submerged into the metropolitan
county councils but they were re-introduced in 1986 when metropolitan
country councils were abolished and PTAs were identified as the
most effective way to deliver transport in the city regions.
7. PTAs were formed to consist of:
"Persons appointed by local authorities
whose areas fall wholly or partly within the area of designated
by the order . . . being councils of counties, county boroughs
or county districts. . ."
Local Elected members from the five district
councils are nominated to form the Passenger Transport Authority
developed policies which their Passenger Transport Executives
implemented via their own funding mechanisms (including, now,
the council tax levy).
8. The PTEs were established as operators
with responsibilities, among many others, that included powers
"(i) carry passengers by road within,
to and from that area;
(ii) carry passengers by any form of land
transport or by any form of water transport . . ."
Until the mid-1980s a major element of the PTEs'
work was the operation of publicly-managed bus services. Bus deregulation
in the Transport Act 1985 compelled the PTEs to sell their bus
fleets to private operators. They were also stripped of their
powers to regulate the fares and timetables of private bus operators.
9. In the Local Government Act 1999, PTAs
were identified alongside fire, police and waste authorities as
specific authorities that would be subjected to the best value
regime. This would ensure that their performance would be measurable
and comparable. But the structure of PTAs and PTEs means that,
unlike fire and police authorities which include the delivery
arm of the authority, the work of PTEs is presently not subject
to the scrutiny of the Government's best value regime.
10. On Merseyside the PTA comprises 18 elected
councillors nominated (in proportion to their respective populations
of their relevant district) from each of the five metropolitan
Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council;
St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council;
Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council; and
Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.
11. The PTA in its current form was established
in 1986 on the abolition of Merseyside County Council.
12. The "Authority" sets the transport
policies in the Merseyside sub region, which are then implemented
by the Executive. The policies are set out in the Merseyside Local
Transport Plan, a statutory document which is jointly produced
and delivered by Merseytravel and the five Metropolitan district
councils, covering the period of 2000-01 to 2005-06. The draft
Local Transport Plan 2 will be finalised in July 2006 and will
set out the transport priorities for the sub-region between 2006-07
13. Current legislation requires that some
functions are performed by the PTA and others by the PTE and,
therefore, to the extent that there is legal requirement to maintain
that separation between the two bodies, Merseytravel does so.
However, where no such constraints exist, Merseytravel operates
as a single entity to ensure that close working relationships
are developed between those responsible for policy and its implementation.
This has helped Merseytravel to develop and deliver significant
improvements to public transport on Merseyside including:
the introduction of one of the first
free concessionary fares schemes, which from April 2006 the Government
will be extending nationally;
securing unique concession-granting
powers for Merseyrail, which in three years has been turned around
from being known as "misery rail"' to become the best
performing railway in mainland Britain;
turning the Mersey Ferries into a
major attraction, including promotion of the ferries and ferry
terminals as popular tourist attractions;
promoting an active social inclusion
securing the long term future of
the Mersey Tunnels by promoting the Bill which became the Mersey
Tunnels Act 2004;
promoting a single integrated public
transport network accessible to everyone;
promoting an active environmental
14. Merseytravel has been identified as
a Transport Centre of Excellence by the Department for Transport
recognised as the "PTA of the Year" for the past two
15. In terms of governance Merseytravel
operates a committee structure. Like any other local authority,
the organisation has looked at the alternative governance structures
which have developed as part of the Government's modernisation
agenda. However, given the PTA's cross-boundary responsibilities,
the conclusion is that the traditional committee system needs
to be retained in order to ensure fair representation of all the
district authorities across a range of policy areas.
The potential for increasing accountability
of decision-making at the regional and sub-regional level, and
the need to simplify existing arrangements
16. In re-organising local government, the
Government may be attracted to transferring the powers of PTAs
to a single tier authority. In Merseytravel's view, because of
the nature of transport planning and delivery, this would be inappropriate.
17. Transport must be structured according
to demand; travel to work areas do not conform with natural administrative
boundaries and in many cases the area of "local travel"
for residents is far larger than any multi-functional local authority
could justifiable oversee. Each region should work together to
determine the best structure for their transport authoritythere
is unlikely to be a "one size fits all" solution.
18. Any new transport body will need to
be formed to reflect a fair representation for everyone in the
"transport region". Election onto the body must be on
a representative basis and it will be essential that any scrutiny
procedures are sensitive to the need for a fairness of cross-boundary
decision-making. The current structure of electing members to
PTAs is successful in achieving fair representation and as a result
there would be no need to change their constitution. Decisions
cannot be made on policy alone, geographical priorities must also
be a consideration.
19. There is no question that the electorate
often find it difficult to understand the different tiers and
lines of accountability within local government and, as this example
shows, the transport sector is no exception but, merging functions
simply to deal with that issue would put an unnecessary constraint
on the scope and remit of transport authorities.
The potential for devolution of powers from regional
to local level
20. The North West, like many other regions
in the UK, has more than one urban hub. Therefore, any form of
regionalisation must include scope for the devolution of power
to the sub-regional or local level to take account of those demands.
21. In the case of Manchester and Liverpool,
each city and its surrounding areas has their own challenges and
transport priorities (in Manchester the focus is congestion management,
whereas in Liverpool there is a much greater need for encouraging
inward investment to address social exclusion and regeneration).
A larger region incorporating more than one major area would challenge
prioritisation for transport and not allow for a focussed needs-based
programme of improvement. The scope of each transport body must
be decided to reflect local circumstances and priorities.
22. Last year, the Secretary of State for
Transport introduced a new regional tier of decision-making into
the approvals process for major transport schemes; there are now
three phases, initial approval from the DfT, securing a place
in the regional prioritisation as decided by the Regional Assemblies,
and then securing final approval from DfT once procurement procedures
have been completed. Merseytravel does not believe that this additional
regional "hurdle" promotes best value in procurement
as potential suppliers may be put off working on UK schemes because
of uncertainty about their future. There are also significant
costs to the public purse when planning a scheme which the bureaucratic
approvals procedure at the regional and national level may decide
to reject. In many cases these costs are not recoverable. This
approach can result in promoters shying away from innovation because
of up front costs before undergoing an uncertain approvals procedure.
23. There is scope to devolve funding decisions
currently held at the regional and national level. Transport for
London (as part of the GLA) has the benefit of an agreed budget
for transport over a five year period and devolved decision-making
on how to spend that budget. Local transport bodies should be
given similar security in their level of funding to allow for
better longer term planning and more project certainty. There
is also the opportunity to transfer the strategic bus road network
to the PTE which would allow swifter introduction of bus lanes
and other bus priority measures.
24. Merseytravel accepts that were there
to be devolved decision-making of a five year commitment to infrastructure,
there would be a need for wider scrutiny of decisions. Should
the Committee consider this an attractive solution for Government,
there would be a need to consider how value for money evaluation
and measurement would take place. Scrutiny could be closely tied
to an agreed constitution and managed in close partnership with
central government and, more importantly, the local community.
The effectiveness of current arrangements for
managing services at the various levels, and their inter-relationships
25. Presently, PTAs' and PTEs' delivery
records are vulnerable to the actions of a wide number of people
outside the organisations. As well as central and, now, regional
funding approvals, projects are subject to ongoing planning approvals
from the relevant planning authority throughout the life of the
project. These relationships are subject to differing political
and geographical priorities to that of the original promoter.
26. As the pressure to devolve local decisions
from central government to the local community grows, transport
bodies will be able to identify appropriate methods of scrutiny
within the evolving regional structures. Regional priorities should
be identified at the local level and the PTAs would be expected
to champion scrutiny of transport decisions made locally. The
ongoing relationships with planning authorities should be restructured
to reflect community-based decision-making so decisions are made
independently of the promoter but with the overall good of the
region in mind. This would enable a more streamlined decision-making
process that would make the public better aware of how local money
was being spent.
27. Merseytravel recognises the need for
an ongoing dialogue with central government and recommends a longer-term
change in the relationship from "bank manageraccount
holder" to a genuine delivery partnership where the scrutiny
of decisions made jointly by government and local government was
conducted locally. The partnership between central and local government
would ensure a longer term commitment to delivery rather than
the them/us relationship presently in place.
28. Current procedures for securing any
funding from the Department for Transport do not ensure a secure
future. Presently, funding for smaller projects is block-granted
on an annual basis according to the previous year's delivery.
The process for securing funding for major infrastructure projects
currently takes about three years. These procedures need to be
streamlined. The proposed devolved funding decisions over a five
year period would have a significant impact on reducing costs
spent on approvals.
The potential for new arrangements, particularly
the establishment of city regions
29. Merseytravel has demonstrated how transport
bodies do not fit neatly into the progression of the city regions
debate. There remains an important role for PTAs, formed according
to need in each area.
30. The PTEs should be streamlined as the
delivery arm under the PTA structure. This, in effect, is the
Merseytravel structure which has proved extremely successful since
its introduction in 1988.
31. The role of PTEs has changed significantly
since their formation from an operator to a commissioner of public
services. Merseytravel had foresight when making the decision
to merge the two statutory bodies in 1988 and the benefits of
the decision are now becoming more and more prominent, particularly
given the findings of the Gershon efficiency review.
32. There are some significant benefits
to this approach:
Transport Authorities will be formed
in a common structure with other "best value" authoritiesproviding
a better clarity of structures in this already unique tier of
As part of the PTA, PTEs' functions
will fall within the best value regime.
Improved accountability as the PTEs'
are under a directly elected body.
Inevitable efficiency savingsin
line with Gershon recommendations.
33. There may also be a need to expand the
responsibilities of the PTA/PTE bodies to include some of the
responsibilities currently with the Traffic Commissioners and
the local highway authority. This would ensure an improved, streamlined
public transport service for the electorate. Communities must
have a much bigger influence in their transport provision, through
Passenger Transport Authorities.
The impact which new regional and sub-regional
arrangements, such as the city regions, might have on towns and
34. Merseytravel is supportive of the proposals
for revised arrangements at the regional and sub-regional level.
However, because of the strategic nature of transport planning
and the fact that travel patterns, particularly travel to work
areas, do not recognise administrative boundaries, Merseytravel
considers that transport must continue to be managed with a sensitivity
to cross-boundary and geographical issues in towns and cities
and with appropriate representation across the area served. Merseytravel
believes that this can best be achieved by merging the existing
PTAs with their corresponding PTEs.
The desirability of closer inter-regional co-operation
(as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities
35. Additional inter-regional co-operation
would be welcome as long as it does not turn into an additional
layer of government. At present, relations across different levels
of government can be burdensome and increase the risk of a project
not succeeding. Merseytravel accepts that big infrastructure projects
have national as well as regional drivers. Co-operation is not
just desirable, but imperative. However, the layers of Government
must be streamlined to identify the best value for money for taxpayers.
36. A merged transport authority with better
security over their medium-term funding for large-scale infrastructure
projects will be in a stronger position to work collaboratively
across policy and regional boundaries as there will be much more
security in their position which will inevitably lead to a more
cooperative approach than is presently seen when competition and
uncertainly of funding is so common.
37. In any review of local government structures,
it is imperative that all of the services that may be affected
are carefully considered so that solutions which work for one
aspect of the public sector are not inappropriately imposed on
others. Merseytravel considers that transport, because of its
inherent nature, is best delivered on a sub-regional basis but
that significant improvements can be made to the delivery of integrated
38. The review comes at an opportune time
to modernise PTAs and PTEs to reflect their changed responsibilities,
and Merseytravel recommends that the Select Committee consider
the suggestion that the Merseytravel "model" of one
passenger transport body that is streamlined, accountable to the
public and in accordance with the Government's best value regime