Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680-699)|
MR CHARLES GEORGE QC and MISS JOANNA CLAYTON.
BIRCHAM DYSON BELL and MR JOHN McGOLDRICK examined
the Minister shall
person or body which appears to the Minister to be sufficiently
representative of persons who have a substantial interest in the
use of the tunnel to which the order applies has objected to the
order and not withdrawn the objection
" That certainly
does not give the impression that they are talking about only
one person and that is, to a certain extent, reinforced by the
next paragraph which says that there were 177 objections and one
of them was a multiple objection from our association which only
counted as one and, despite that, they were not definite as to
whether they were going to hold a public inquiry or not. I would
suggest that if only one person had objected, there would have
been no chance of a public inquiry. The Minister would just have
confirmed his order.
681. Pages 18, 19, 19A and 20 are extracts from
some of the local newspapers. The purpose here is to try and
stop any impression which you may have that somehow the petitioners
are just odd objectors and that the majority of people on Merseyside
are in favour of toll rises. So, these are just samples of some
of the headlines. The first one is December 2001 which is shortly
after the Bill was deposited in the Commons and you will see the
headline there, "Stop the Toll Rise" and you will see
the logo that the Liverpool Echo ran, "Stop the Tunnel
Tax." The Liverpool Echo is the biggest circulation
newspaper on Merseyside by a long chalk. Turning to page 20,
the Wirral Globe is one of the two free newspapers which
are circulated to every house on the Wirral. This is a slightly
more recent one a year ago, the Wirral Globe, special edition,
"Scrap the tolls" and you can see their logo there,
"Scrap the tolls. Free Tunnels."
682. We slipped in an extra page, page 19A, just
in case you might recognise the face, a yet more recent one from
last month, "Tunnels fight not over yet. Defeat in the Lords
has not killed off opposition to unpopular Mersey tolls Bill"
and there is a face that you may recognise holding up the Wirral
Globe's logo, "Scrap the Tolls". Over the years
that these Bills have been running, there have been various articles
contained in various newspapers. Just as an example of one of
them, on page 20, we have a Wirral businessman, Frank Brennan.
I am not quite sure if this is a letter or an article. It appears
as an article. He is saying, as per the headlines, "Kill
the tolls and breathe life into business."
683.The next few pages, pages 21 through to about
page 30, are basically some of the responses that we managed to
get copies of from some of the organisations that were consulted
by Merseytravel and, basically, the pattern is that most organisations
have no objection whatsoever to insulation grants. They all object
to, as the Freight Transport Association letter puts it, the cross-subsidisation
of local public transport services. They all oppose the removal
of the requirement to reduce tolls when the debt is paid up and
some of the letters go into more detail saying that they generally
do not like tolls and, in particular, the Liverpool Chamber of
Commerce letter goes a bit further than just responding to the
question put by Merseytravel and pages 29 and 30 are some additional
comments which the Chamber wish to make.
684. On pages 31 and 32, we could not trace if the
Wirral Chamber of Commerce had responded. That does not mean
to say that they did not because some of the organisations that
we contacted that we thought would have been consulted and would
have responded, such as the RAC, said there is no record of it
and similarly with the Wirral Chamber of Commerce. They are fairly
central to the issue of whether the Wirral is being penalised.
We asked them for what they thought of the Bill. Do I have time
to go through the whole letter, my Lord?
685. CHAIRMAN: If you wish. Nothing is
to stop you making your case.
686. MR McGOLDRICK: Basically, the letter
has been provided just for this Committee although it has been
addressed to us and what they are saying, if you see at the end
of the third paragraph, is, "The Chamber's view is that tolls
are detrimental to the wider Merseyside economy and that of the
Wirral in particular" and go on to say, "The tolls are
an added cost to business, a burden which businesses in no other
area are forced to bear in the same measure" and comments
on the Objective One status and then, turning to page 32, it goes
687. "Taking this into account it would surely
be a nonsense to enshrine tunnel tolls for time immemorial as
an extra burden on the local economy long after the period in
which they need to be collected at such a high level."
688. The next paragraph relates to complaints specifically
relating to goods vehicles and the following paragraph is about
the fact that one of the major industries on the Wirral is tourism
and, when Mr George's expert was going through the various sectors
this morning, I presume that tourism was lost in "other services"
or something like that, but there is relatively little industries
within the Wirral District Council area. To a large extent, Wirral
is a dormitory suburb and people have to travel out of the Wirral
either in the direction of Liverpool and further afield or in
the direction of Cheshire and North Wales to seek employment.
One of the few industries that we do have that is successful
is tourism and obviously that is not helped by having a toll road
going into a tourist area.
689. In the next paragraph, the Chamber are saying
that ideally they would like to see tolls removed and financed
from national taxation and, in the last paragraph, they are saying
that it would be a grievous blow to the businesses of Wirral if
the Bill were passed in its present form.
690. While I am on consultation, there may be the
impression that the councils are 100 per cent behind the Bill
and, to some extent, that is true but it is not 100 per cent true.
If I can refer you to page 50 in bundle A of Merseytravel's submission,
A17, where we have the letters from the district councils which
are in favour of the Merseytravel's proposals, this is just to
point out that it is not 100 per cent. If you look at the last
page of the Wirral Council's submission under item (b) where the
question from Merseytravel was, "Should the requirement to
reduce tolls when the tunnel debt is paid off be removed?"
and the response from the Wirral Council is "No."
691. If I can turn back to the main set of documents
that they submitted, you will probably be aware that accountants
can always produce figures in lots of different ways which may
give different impressions and all we have done here at pages
33, 34 and 35 is give three alternative views of the table that
Merseytravel submitted as to the finances over the last 25 years
or so. Page 33 is our view and pages 34 and 35 are two earlier
views that Merseytravel themselves had.
692. One of the questions was about the financing
of the tunnels in the past and to what extent they came out of
the rates. We half anticipated that by putting page 36 in but
we then supplemented that with page 36A. It relates to the year
1968/69. There is nothing special about 1968/69, we have not
picked on that because it is in some way different to any other
year. We have only shown 1968/69 because, of the more recent
table that Merseytravel submitted, that was the first year. If
you look at the two pages that you now have, pages 36A and 36,
in fact page 36A is the one you should probably look at first.
It is headed, "1-PRECEPT ACCOUNT". In case that is
not clear, basically that means that, under the legislation, Liverpool,
Birkenhead and Wallasey were obliged to pay a precept towards
the tunnels. What then happened, due to the way in which the
Acts were worded, which is demonstrated at page 36 where we can
see what has happened at the tolls, as you can see, in 1968/69,
the tolls in the far right-hand column were approximately £1.8
million and, on the left, you can see some of the items that that
went on. A fairly substantial amount went on actually collecting
the tolls and there is expenditure on the police and expenditure
on debt charges. Another fairly substantial amount is spent on
the ferries and then you will see that the next item is, "Statutory
appropriation of tolls" whereby the districts were able to
get the money back. The bottom item you will see is, "Distribution
of surplus" where basically, even after all of that, the
tunnels were making a surplus and they were paying money into
reserve funds. Again, if you were to compare that with the Merseytravel
figures, you will see that they are actually saying that there
was a loss in 1968/69 and we are at a loss to see how those figures
could be interpreted as being a loss.
693. Pages 37 and 38 are basically the Mersey tunnels
published accounts which are published along with Merseytravel
accounts, they are just the two pages. I think we were mainly
originally including them just to give you some sort of picture
of where the money goes now, it is the equivalent of the earlier
statements which I have been through and page 38 is the balance
sheet. What is not highlighted here, if I can go back on one
of the points that Merseytravel have made, is that they have said
that the Merseytravel accounts are audited by the district auditor
and they are given a clean bill of health and I am sure that that
is a correct statement, but one of the things that concerns us
is that these published accounts for the Mersey tunnels as shown
here are not in fact included in the district auditor's certificates.
That does not mean to say that they are wrong but it begs the
question as to why the district auditor has not certified them
particularly as the tunnels accounts are statutory accounts under
the County of Merseyside Act, 1980.
694. Pages 39 and 40 are the draft revenue budget
for the Mersey tunnels for the next year, so you can see, at the
time this was prepared, what the estimate was of toll etc income
which is some £33 million and where that money would be going
695. Page 40 is some statistics that Merseytravel
produce for tunnels and for other services to support the Budget
statement. So you will see, amongst other things, how many employees
there are at the tunnels and how many of those are on traffic
control, which is basically the police as I understand it, how
many maintain the tunnels, which appears to be 35, how many are
collecting the tolls etcetera, which appears to be 58, and how
many are involved in management and administration, which appears
to be 28.
696. Pages 41, 42, 43 and 44 are the latest capital
programmes of Merseytravel. It is the latest one or the one that
they considered recently. It may have been slightly amended since.
One of the figures that has been mentioned during the Committee
hearing has been the spending of approximately £10 million
on safety work in the Birkenhead tunnel for refuges or escape
ways into the bottom half of the tunnel. The reason for submitting
this was to put that £10 million or so spending in the context
of the overall capital programme which, as you can see, is £91
million over the next few years or so. When you look through
the detail it is difficult to put your finger on where the £91
million is going. The impression that we get as tunnel users,
obviously not being in any way experts in the maintenance of tunnels
and being complete laymen and not knowing anything at all about
it, is that it is difficult to envisage with the wide variety
of work which is already programmed here that there can be much
left that could be replaced or refurbished.
697. Pages 45 and 46 ---
698. CHAIRMAN: Sorry, Mr McGoldrick, just
before we go on. There seems to be a discrepancy between pages
41 and 44 and the discrepancy appears to me to be in 2009/10.
You have different totals there. Page 41, the total for 2009/10
is 9,800,000 whereas on page 44 it is 5,857,000.
699. MR McGOLDRICK: I cannot explain that.
I had not noticed it. These are not our figures, these are taken
from the Merseytravel budgets capital programme figures.