Select Committee on Transport Seventh Report


List of recommendations


Introduction

1.  The Committee is pleased to learn that the Department has taken appropriate and swift action to rectify some of the concerns identified in the Capability Review. Much still remains to be done, and we will monitor progress in this area, and return to these issues when we examine the Department's 2008 Annual Report. (Paragraph 5)

Objectives, structure and effectiveness

2.  We are unclear as to the Departments' motive for having a set of five goals, as well as a set of four strategic objectives, given that there seems to be a degree of crossover between the two. We are particularly concerned that the Department was restructured in order to better align with the four strategic objectives, only to shift its priorities by introducing the five core goals less than a year later. The second strategic objective is divided between two of the five goals, for reasons that remain obscure. We question whether this restructuring of the Department's goals and objectives has led to any actual increase in the quantity or quality of its work. (Paragraph 9)

3.  We have noted a number of areas of policy where the Department seems to be stalling in making a clear decision - examples are electrification versus diesel on the railways, a national ports policy, the viability of a national road pricing scheme. While we recognise that the Department is trying to ensure that policy decisions are made on the basis of thorough cross-modal analyses and considerations, there is a danger that the policy-making process could become bogged-down. The Department clearly has substantial issues that need to be resolved, but at the moment there appears to be a lack of clear, tangible vision - at least none that is communicated to the wider world. (Paragraph 11)

4.  We are pleased to hear that the Department has learnt lessons and acted rapidly to implement changes to its shared services programme by appointing a new board director with experience of running shared services in the private sector. We are also reassured by the fact that the contract between the DVLA and IBM, their partner in the shared services arrangement, has been refined. But we are deeply disappointed that the estimated cost of the project has risen from an initial figure of £50 million to the most recent estimate of £113 million - a 126% increase. We remain unconvinced that the Department is of a sufficient size to reap the benefits of the shared services approach. We reiterate our encouragement for the Department to actively seek clients for its shared services from parts of Government outside the Departmental group, in order to secure the long-term viability of its shared services programme. (Paragraph 16)

5.  We were concerned to learn that the Department had been involved in several separate incidents where significant amounts of personal data were lost. We are pleased that the Department has since then put in place measures to prevent similar incidents happening in future, but would urge that the systems surrounding the storage and transfer of any kind of personal data by the DfT or its agencies be kept under review for the time being. We expect the Department to implement the recommendations now awaited from the Cabinet Secretary regarding personal data fully and speedily once these are known. (Paragraph 18)

The Department's management of expenditure

6.  We are deeply concerned that budgetary pressure caused by increases in the projected cost of programmed road schemes could result in the postponement or cancellation of other much needed improvements. The implications of the Nichols Report must be fully considered by the Highways Agency and there should be a detailed response to its recommendations. The Secretary of State must make a statement to the House as soon as the Department's investigation of the consequences of the cost increases has been concluded. (Paragraph 22)

7.  We believe the LTP funding arrangements are excessively complex and there is a deficiency of publicly available information from the Department to explain the arrangements and their implications. We are also concerned that some local authorities may be unable to fund the additional borrowing necessitated by these arrangements. We urge the Department to simplify the system and improve the quality and availability of information available to local authorities and others. (Paragraph 27)

8.  We congratulate the Department for delivering 95% of its Spending Review 2004 financial efficiency target, and trust that the target will be substantially over-achieved. We expect to see real improvements in services driven by the resources released by this achievement, though at present the Efficiency Technical Note only says that the savings "could" do so. (Paragraph 28)

9.  We are very concerned that the Department might fail to achieve its headcount reduction target. The pace of change does not appear to be sufficiently rapid. (Paragraph 29)

The Department's Public Service Agreement targets

10.  We are concerned that the Department for Transport appears to have lost interest in rail punctuality and reliability. The PSA targets on punctuality and reliability have not been met, so there can be little justification for dropping the target. A loss of focus in this area might lead to a reversal in such progress as has been made in the past five years. (Paragraph 34)

11.  The Department's success or failure will be judged largely on the basis of its achievement of the PSA targets for which it has lead responsibility. There is a clear risk that the Minister's stated ambitions for synergy between economic and green imperatives in the Department's operations will fall by the wayside. (Paragraph 36)

12.  We are concerned that the Department's approach to its new PSA targets lacks clarity. The new targets do not address the issues raised by the Eddington study in any obvious manner. In our judgement, there is no clear link between the new PSA targets and the Eddington priorities. (Paragraph 38)

13.  The Department for Transport has been unable to clarify the manner in which it will contribute towards meeting the PSA targets in which it has a supporting role. The lack of clarity concerns the budget that the DfT intends to allocate as well as changes in strategy and approach. There is a real risk that responsibility for delivering the Department for Transport's element of these joint PSA targets will be too diffuse, undermining performance and accountability. (Paragraph 39)

14.  We are concerned that the fourth indicator of the DfT's new PSA target, to "deliver reliable and efficient transport networks that support economic growth" could result in a very narrow perspective on transport investment. We recommend that, when allocating investment funds, the Department gives due consideration to factors beyond the absolute value of improvements in terms of economic performance and growth. It is important, for example, that the Department should take equally seriously its supporting role in regional Development PSA targets. (Paragraph 40)

The Department's impact on economic growth and productivity

15.  The continued failure to deliver on road congestion targets, especially given the modest nature of the target, is very disappointing. The Department has very little time to reverse the trend towards ever more serious delays on the strategic road network. In order to do so, the improvements cited by the Department, such as enhanced Incident Support Units (ISUs) and improved road-works management, will need to be implemented very quickly and efficiently. The problem is likely to become more significant, as two of the four new PSAs relate to congestion. (Paragraph 45)

16.  We note that little progress is being made with regard to road pricing. There is little evidence to suggest that local authorities have the appetite for submitting the necessary bids and securing TIF support. We have previously noted that local road pricing schemes cannot be effective pilots for a national scheme. We therefore recommend that the Government re-examine its policy with respect to national road pricing. (Paragraph 50)

17.  We are deeply disappointed by the lack of progress on lorry road user charging. In the absence of a national road pricing scheme for the foreseeable future, United Kingdom hauliers continue to pay towards the cost of maintaining the infrastructure while their foreign competitors generally make no such contribution. This situation is highly unsatisfactory and has been going on for far too long. The Department must act to level the playing field between UK hauliers and their overseas competitors. Since a national road pricing scheme remains a distant prospect, we recommend that the Department revive its plans to set up a lorry road user charging scheme as soon as possible. (Paragraph 52)

18.  The failure to achieve the target for punctuality and reliability on the railways suggests either that the Department is not sufficiently pro-active in driving up standards among train operating companies and other partners, or that it does not have the means to compel operators to get this sorted out. Whichever is the real problem, the Government needs to act promptly and decisively to ensure that passengers get the level of reliability and punctuality they deserve. (Paragraph 55)

19.  The Department should clarify the time-frame in which it will make a decision over the high-speed rail link to Birmingham. We understand the logic of the Eddington report which suggests that now is not the right time to make this decision, but given the long lead time for any major engineering works, we believe the Government needs to commit to making a decision by 2010 at the latest. (Paragraph 56)

The environment

20.  We are not convinced that biofuels will make sufficient impact on UK emissions within the time-frame envisaged by the Government. There are significant issues over the use of first-generation biofuels in transport, not least of which is the risk that they might cause as much carbon emission as conventional fuels, once all factors are taken into account. Other, significant risks relating to biofuels, in particular their impact on food prices, also need to be addressed before biofuels can be seen as a major element in efforts to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions. It may well be that second-generation biofuels, produced from the non-edible parts of food crops and non-food plants, can address some of these concerns, but it is still early days. It is a matter of concern that the Department currently has no plans to assess the risks of first-generation biofuels in the short term. (Paragraph 62)

21.  We are concerned that the Department is not giving sufficient weight to the issue of climate change adaptation, both with regards to planning decisions and maintenance funding. Greater clarity and coordination is needed in this area. (Paragraph 63)

22.  We recommend that a target for the Department to improve air quality be reinstated. (Paragraph 65)

23.  We would welcome any information the Department can give us concerning their plans to enhance the provision for cyclists. We assume such plans are being made given the DfT's stated objective of being a 'green' department in the lead of the struggle against climate change. (Paragraph 66)

Enforcement

24.  We congratulate the department on its achievement of its road safety PSA target. We are pleased to note that the Department has also met its added objective of tackling the significantly higher incidence of casualties in disadvantaged communities. However, we are concerned that the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) failed to include a target in this area for the period from 2008 onwards. It is essential that there is no let-up in effort in this area of great public concern. (Paragraph 67)

25.  The growth in VED evasion is cause for concern. It is not so much the lost revenue—though that is a problem that the DVLA should be making every effort to tackle—but the apparent growth in the number of motorists whose vehicles are neither registered, taxed, insured nor roadworthy that is a serious concern to us. The removal, in March 2007, of a specific target for reducing the size of this group of illicit road-users was clearly an error and we recommend that such a target be reinstated immediately. (Paragraph 72)

26.  We are also concerned about the Department's significant over-estimation of the scale of VED evasion among motorcyclists, which calls into question the reliability of all the Department's VED evasion data. We recommend that the Department review the systems it uses to estimate evasion rates. (Paragraph 73)

Conclusions

27.  The Department has made some progress in addressing its major objectives, but the overall picture is disappointing. It now appears likely that only one of the PSA targets from the 2004 Spending Review will be met, even though some of these targets were not especially onerous. This does not inspire confidence that the Department will be able to use its additional resources to meet all of its new targets. (Paragraph 74)

28.  The Department for Transport needs to be clear about what its main priorities are, taking into account the diverse recommendations of the Eddington and Stern reports, as well as its new targets and goals. We would welcome a more consistent and coherent set of targets which state clearly what the Department's priorities are and will enable more rigorous, objective measurement of its progress in meeting them. (Paragraph 75)



 
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