1.On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Department for Transport on the progress made with its preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU.
2.The Department for Transport (the Department) is responsible for preparing the transport system for when the UK leaves the European Union (EU). Its objectives for EU Exit are to ensure that it is prepared to secure the best possible outcome for transport users and businesses in negotiations, and to help establish a separate, distinct international trade policy for transport in preparation for leaving the EU.
3.The Department reports on 17 EU Exit work streams within the overall Government portfolio of more than 300. These work streams include for example securing the continuity of air and rail services, planning the permitting and licensing regimes that will operate for vehicles, planning the vehicle emissions target regime, and managing the consequences for the transport system arising from potential disruption at ports.
4.The Department spent £1.6 million on EU Exit work in 2016–17 and £5 million in 2017–18. It has an allocation of £75.8 million in 2018–19 and plans to spend an additional £35 million on Project Brock, a project to improve congestion in Dover and Kent. To support its workload the Department must also pass a number of Statutory Instruments (SIs) through Parliament. It has identified 66 that it aims to pass by 29 March 2019, of which it regards 61 as critical.
5.The Department is required to report to the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) on the progress of its work streams. At the time of our evidence session, the Department rated three of the its work streams as not ‘on track’ for delivery by 29 March 2019. The work streams not on track included bilateral discussions about cross-border rail services, the negotiation of air service agreements with the EU, and the Department’s plans for issuing International Driving Permits. The Department has since reported to us that it has signed a contract with the Post Office for the issue of International Driving Permits, which the Department said was the action needed to bring the work stream back on track.
6.The Department also monitors progress internally on 28 EU-exit related projects, which do not relate straightforwardly to the 17 work streams. Its rating of progress internally has been more pessimistic than its reporting to DExEU, with 14 projects internally rated amber or worse at March 2018 reported to DExEU as on track in the seven work streams to which they related. The Department could not provide us with an update on these internal ratings in the session, but in written evidence it said that, as at 5 November 2018, 21 of the 26 still being tracked internally were rated amber or worse. The Department was clear that there is little room for further slippage on any of them.
7.The Department told us it was becoming less confident that the overall programme was on track. There was still uncertainty about the likely outcome of the negotiations and the timetable of events. Some factors are outside the Department’s control including its ability to hold conversations with individual member states. The later that decisions are taken, the harder it will be to have contingency plans in place.
8.Project Brock is the Department’s plan to mitigate the effects of disruption to cross-border traffic at the port of Dover following EU exit. The initial plans involved building the infrastructure to be able to hold coast-bound lorries on the M20 while allowing non-port traffic to continue to move in both directions via a contraflow. The Department explained that the scope of Project Brock had since been widened to include work on the M26. At July 2018, the project was expected to cost £20 million in 2018–19. The Department told us the project is now expected to cost £35 million in 2018–19, £30 million on the M20 and £5 million on the M26. The cost is being met out of Highways England’s budget.
9.The Department told us that it was confident the plan would be ready by 29 March 2019, and that the plan is intended to ensure a continuous flow of car traffic on local motorways. However, we were told that testing of the project had yet to take place and that this would be a theoretical, office-based exercise. In addition, the Department is considering whether additional secondary legislation may be needed to grant Kent County Council traffic enforcement powers.
10.The Department is not taking the lead in consultations with stakeholders. The Department said that Highways England is working with Project Brock stakeholders through the Kent Resilience Forum, which brings together Highways England, Kent County Council, Kent Police and the Port of Dover and others. Discussions with other ports have been carried out by the Border Delivery Group on the Department’s behalf. Consultations with affected local authorities in other parts of England, such as Plymouth, are being carried out by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government rather than the experts in the Department, and a lack of consultation is causing concern amongst local MPs. In the devolved administrations, the Department told us that discussions are at an early stage with the Welsh Government on ports such as Holyhead, and have not yet started with Scottish ones.
11.As at April 2018, the Department had 63 exit-related statutory instruments (SIs) to draft and get through Parliament before March 2019. In front of the Exiting the European Union Committee on 17 October 2018, the Department stated it had 66. In written evidence to us on 18 October 2018, the Department stated it had 68, and in the oral evidence session on 24 October 2018, the Department said the figure was back down to 66. We expect the figure to continue to change as planning continues, for example if the decision is made to introduce an SI for traffic enforcement in Kent.
12.The Department told us that around 50% of its exit SIs are currently planned to be ‘affirmative’, that is require debate in the House, but it is looking at ways to reduce that figure. We will be looking at the SIs designated as not requiring debate to satisfy ourselves that Parliament is not being denied the opportunity to properly scrutinise them. We identified the same issue regarding the time available for parliamentary scrutiny in our recent report on preparedness for EU Exit at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
13.The Department told us it has prioritised its SIs in terms of how critical they are to deliver by 29 March 2019. Of the 66 the Department says it currently has, it told us that there are only 11 where it can manage the risk of them happening after EU exit. The Department did not provide us with any additional detail on how it was planning its programme of SIs to ensure the 55 would be laid in time, or what would happen if any of them were not. In subsequent written evidence, the Department told us that 32 SIs were “a high priority” and that all except 5 needed to be delivered by 29 March 2019, but did not explain why these figures had changed from those provided in the session. The Department told us that it was more advanced in laying SIs than other departments, having already laid 21 of the 66 it required. The Department recognised that its SIs represented only a fraction of those needing to be laid across government as a whole, but it did not explain how its prioritisation of SIs has affected laying plans within the Department or across government.
14.The Department provided us with a more detailed update on four key projects which had been covered in detail in the NAO report. These were: maritime databases; International Driving Permits; the trailer registration scheme; and road haulage permits. In its written evidence to us in advance of the session, the Department described all four projects as having progressed since the NAO’s report. However, its responses in the session itself exposed how much work there was still to do:
15.The Department told us that it had quite a lot of oversight of its EU Exit work, including Senior Responsible Officers who hold projects to account, and support from external experts such as the Government Digital Service and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. In our view the Department was clearly leaving responsibility for delivery to partners; either arm’s-length bodies like Highways England or third parties like the Post Office. The Department is responsible for the use of public money in delivering these projects but did not seem to have a clear grasp of key information, such as: the exact date the road haulage permit system would go live (which might have been either one week or five weeks away–a considerable difference); what is still to be done in the eight weeks before the trailer registration scheme goes live; or how to reduce the risk of competing roadworks causing additional traffic problems in Kent in March 2019.
1 C&AG’s Report, Implementing the UK’s Exit from the European Union: Department for Transport, Session 2017–19, HC 1125, 19 July 2018
2 C&AG’s Report, para 2
3 C&AG’s Report, Figure 1
4 C&AG’s Report, para 2.32
6 Q 106
7 Qq 106, 109
9 C&AG’s report, para 10.
10 Qq 111, 116; Letter from Permanent Secretary of Department for Transport to Chair of Committee of Public Accounts: Update on EU exit preparedness 5 November 2018
11 Qq 83–85
12 Qq 88–9
13 C&AG’s report para 2.30 and Figure 2
14 Qq 228–9
15 C&AG’s report, para 2.34.
16 Letter from Permanent Secretary of Department for Transport to Chair of Committee of Public Accounts: Update on EU exit preparedness 5 November 2018
17 Qq 131, 225–7
18 Qq 153–5, 157
19 Qq 217–8
20 Letter from Permanent Secretary of Department for Transport to Chair of Committee of Public Accounts: Update on EU exit preparedness 5 November 2018
21 Qq 133–4
22 Q 128
23 Qq 135–7
24 Q 129
25 C&AG’s report, paragraph 14
26 , 17 October 2018, Q2883
27 Qq 210–211
28 Letter from Permanent Secretary of Department for Transport to Chair of Committee of Public Accounts: Update on EU exit preparedness 5 November 2018
29 Qq 203–205, 212
30 Committee of Public Accounts. Exiting the European Union: progress at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Session 2017–19, HC 1514, 14 November 2018
31 Q 202
32 Letter from Permanent Secretary of Department for Transport to Chair of Committee of Public Accounts: Update on EU exit preparedness 5 November 2018
33 Letter from Permanent Secretary of Department for Transport to Chair of Committee of Public Accounts: Update on EU exit preparedness 5 November 2018
34 Qq 200–201
35 C&AG’s report, para 2.30
36 18 October 2018
37 Qq 178–191
38 Qq 162–164, 166
39 Qq 171–6
40 Qq 192–194, 196
41 Q 165
Published: 28 November 2018