Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from ADEPT

The issues which the Committee will examine are set out below:

Whether the Government is right not to set road safety targets and whether its outcomes framework is appropriate

How the decentralisation to local authorities of funding and the setting of priorities will work in practice and contribute towards fulfilling the Government’s vision.

Whether the Government is right to argue that, for the most part, the right legislative framework for road safety is in place, and, in particular, whether the Road Safety Act 2006 has fulfilled its objectives (see Post-Legislative Assessment of the Road Safety Act 2006, Cm 8141, published by the DfT, July 2011).

Whether the measures set out in the action plan are workable and sufficient.

The relationship between the Government’s strategy and EU road safety initiatives.

Not all of these relate closely to the role of local government in road safety, and ADEPTs comments, below, are intended to concentrate on those which do so.

ADEPT welcomes the Strategic Framework as an important signal of Government’s commitment to making continued progress on road safety. The Framework rightly recognises that Britain’s enviable record has resulted from effective collaboration between national and local government, other public, private and third-sector bodies. It is vital that this collaboration continues, and ADEPTs main area of concern around the Framework is over whether it serves to maintain the coherence of a “road safety community” striving to make further progress or whether it risks creating divisions. A separate issue arises from the tension between localism and an evidence-based approach to casualty reduction.

With regard to the Committee’s interest in whether there should be one or more Government-defined targets, ADEPT believes that it is vital, if resources are to be secured and focussed on the right areas, that a clear indication is in place of what constitutes success. The Framework, by providing casualty forecasts to 2030, comes very close to suggesting an outcomes target but stops short of setting this. It could be argued that what it does provide is sufficient, and it will certainly be the case that most if not all local authorities will define their own desired outcomes with reference to this trajectory. ADEPT believes that all authorities should do so, and will encourage this. It is sensible to ask, however, whether the lack of a national target carries risks for the required commitment from Government and from other key players. On balance it would be preferable if there was a central, shared, objective on which all interested parties could be focussed. Targets, and their use within a performance monitoring framework, have to date been generally accepted within the road safety field because this has been regarded as a collaborative exercise. It would certainly be helpful if those adopted by local authorities were placed within the context of a national objective.

With regard to the broader question of the Outcomes Framework, ADEPT believes that this provides a very useful set of indicators covering both the casualty outcomes and some of the key influences on these. An area of concern, though, is the degree to which the Framework associates these outcomes with “performance”. It is interesting to contrast the reference to “lower performing authorities” in paragraph 6.5 with the quite limited reference elsewhere in the Framework to the role of local authorities. Road safety engineering, education, training and publicity have all played vital roles in the success achieved to date, which must be recognised alongside the need to ensure that resources remain in place for them to continue. These resources include the availability of a suitably skilled workforce.

There are areas of the Framework which could, if they are to carry sufficient weight, be given more prominence in both the Action Plan and the Outcomes Framework. These include the importance of collaborative and partnership working at local level, more important than ever in the current financial climate, which are mentioned in the text but not reflected in how the Framework will be taken forward. Indicators on the resources being made available for road safety could also be helpful.

Quite rightly, the Framework highlights the influences of enforcement, of vehicle design, of driving standards etc but then runs the risk of local authorities being held wholly responsible for the outcomes. ADEPT would caution the Select Committee and Government to recognise that each local authority has unique circumstances with which to work, which can not be adequately captured by raw casualty numbers, rates per head of population or per billion vehicle kilometres. Authorities should certainly be accountable for their own performance but Government must recognise that this is not easily measured through numerical indicators and also that there are significant areas of both the road safety problem and the solutions which fall outside local authority control. Government must also recognise that localism, whilst laudable in its own right, can be difficult to reconcile with the evidence-based approach which it also encourages. If local authorities are to be judged, both by local communities and by Government, by their performance in reducing casualty numbers then they will continue to deploy resources in response to where they can most influence these numbers. A more flexible approach, better able to respond to where communities believe that they have a road safety problem, can only be encouraged by an environment under which the authority is not at risk of being labelled a “lower performer”.

These comments should not, in any way, be regarded as a criticism of the Strategic Framework which, to repeat, is a valuable step towards continued progress on road safety. They do, though, identify concerns from within local government over whether it could lead towards a less collaborative, more confrontational relationship between key players which could only be damaging to the shared objective. ADEPT thanks the Select Committee for the opportunity to comment.

October 2011

Prepared 18th July 2012