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The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 15 and 28 are fairly straightforward in their intent. They attempt to set out, with some clarity, what expenditure on the schemes can be used for. Heading (a) in Amendment No. 28 is straightforward"payment for transport arrangements" should be covered by the Bill anyway. As for proposed new headings (b), (c) and (d), under existing regulations, where a walking route to school is not safe, pupils are entitled to free transport. It would be a worthy use of some of the expenditure on the scheme, and perhaps of any revenue derived from charging, to improve the safety of walking routes to schools; we touched on that when I talked about my roundabouts early on. The work could be done by improving street lighting or with the installation of
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new pedestrian crossingsagain, I remind the Committee of my roundaboutsto enable children to cross the road safely.
There are apparently plenty of examples from overseas. When the Transport Committee considered the Bill, it commented that in Denmark legislation requires there to be a safe route to school for every child, and it gives a definition of a safe route. The legislation says that if there is no such route, free bus transport must be provided. There is a real imperative for the relevant authorities in Denmark to invest in safe routes to reduce the cost of free school transport. That sounds a possible way of proceeding.
So often the measures governing school transport arrangements that we talk about concern the hard assets that we can acquire, such as buses or other equipment that will facilitate children getting to school. However, there are also softer areas that we should consider. Greater resources could be made available for teaching or encouraging children to cycle safely to school. We talked about more people walking to school or encouraging things such as cycling proficiency tests. Such a step might help to reduce congestion in urban areas where children do not have free school transport, and where many journeys are undertaken by car. Cycling to school might be a way to reduce congestionwe discussed that before, but I should like further comment on itand to help to make children healthier.
I return to safe routes. One of my early jobs in local government was walking school routes. That has been going on for all my time in local government. My postbag contains as much about unsafe routes and parents wanting free school transport as anything else. Although the Minister does not believe it, we would need more than £600 million in Essex to make the routes safe. We need to give much more thought to how to make routes safer and then encourage parents to use themor insist that they do. Invariably, when parents protest about routes, there is some truth to that and, when you walk them, you accept that children should not walk them. In this day and age, one is concerned about children walking in unlit areas, and so on, so I would like further comment on investment and how we are to encourage people to walk. I beg to move.
Lord Triesman: The amendment would ring-fence revenue from charges so that it was spent only on furthering the objectives of the scheme. The Government have made it clear in the draft prospectus, in our response to the report of the Education and Skills Select Committee and in another placemy noble friend Lord Filkin also made it absolutely clear in terms on Second Readingthat it is not, was never intended to be and will not be a cost-cutting exercise and that the relevant national authority would not approve a scheme that sought to treat it as such. It is just as well to put that in plain English on the record.
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"LEAs are expected to fund schemes from resources already committed to funding school transport, together with any charges levied on pupils . . . existing funds must continue to support school travel, with budgets uprated each year in-line with comparable LEAs",
To ensure that that happens, scheme authorities will be obliged to produce annual reports for either the DfES or the National Assembly for Wales. Those reports will contain financial annexes, detailing the economics of the scheme. The reports will form part of the overall evaluation of schemes and will be published by the appropriate national authority.
Amendment No. 15 is intended to achieve that aim by requiring in the Bill that revenue be spent on furthering scheme aims. It is doubtful whether it would achieve that aim, as an authority that sought to reduce its overall school transport expenditure could argue that it was indeed spending the revenue from charges on scheme aims but was merely reducing its previous school transport spend. The approach outlined in the prospectus will be more effective in achieving the objective sought through the amendment, which is common ground between us.
Amendment No. 28 sets out a non-exhaustive list of categories that the noble Lord has envisaged expenditure under the scheme including. The Travelling to School action plan published by two departments refers to a number of sources of funding that can be and are deployed to further the aim of more sustainable travel to school, including Safe Routes to School. Incidentally, investment is already in place for the Safe Routes to School programme. The Department for Transport provides funding through the local transport plan, which was mentioned earlier.
However, including safe routes in legislation would not necessarily be beneficial. It could well lead to endless litigation about what was and what was not safe. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, made comments about Essex that, in a way, illustrate that very point: people could well have differences of view that could end up in litigation if there was a basis in the Act for such litigation to be pursued.
The critical thing is that it is plainly for the local authority to determine what it wants to do to encourage safety, whether providing new footpaths, cycle routes, changes in road layout, about which we talked earlier, traffic-calming, and so on.
However, quite aside from that, it is certainly still the case that the monies raised and deployed under the Bill must be for the improvements that I illustrated earlier. Since December 2003, all local authorities in England have produced strategies showing how they would draw on a full range of local resources to support sustainable travel to school. In the prospectus, we state that we expect scheme applicants to build on
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those strategies when putting together their scheme proposals and to set out what is being done to boost walking and cycling.
We want scheme areas to use the new legislation to support arrangements that offer a range of good quality, cost-effective alternatives to the family car on the home-to-school journey. Schemes do not have to enhance bus travelthey can focus in whole or in part on increasing cycling, car-sharing or walkingbut the fundamental principle is that the LEA will decide how best to find the right balance for its area.
Those are the key points about the amendment. As I said, any revenue from the scheme will be dealt with as I described earlier. The prospectus is explicit about that: LEAs are expected to fund schemes from resources already committed to funding school transport, plus any charges levied on pupils.
I hope that the noble Lord will agree that matters related to scheme expenditure are best handled through the prospectus. That secures the money in precisely the way that his amendment intends. I therefore ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for that response. The real problem is that there will be a limited amount of money if schemes go ahead. There will not be the money to invest on improving cycleways, crossings, and so on. They are very expensive. It might be cheaper to encourage more youngsters to go by bike, and you could work with the schools to do that, but given that most of the money will be sent directly to schools anyway and the LEAs will not get much in future, the real money will come from the highways budget.
Whether one is developing new road schemes, town centre schemes or whatever, one wants to take into account how one can create safe routes for children. They are very expensive. I was not joking. In Essex, £600 million would not go very far. To create a really safe route requires a lot of money. These days, you do not get much for £2 million or £3 million when creating cycleways, and so on. They are very expensive. I know, because I have to live with that all the time. It is nice to hear the Minister saying that £600 million is a lot of money, but it is not when it comes to creating road schemes and so on.
Therefore, although there will be no magic wand when a Conservative government is in power in a few weeks' timethey will not have the £600 million eitherwe may decide that getting to school is part of the overall education budget. At the moment, it is a bit of an add-on. We might decide that we need to fund schools to help the education budget. We may all have the principle wrong at the moment and need to rethink it. But the Bill does not do that, so that takes us back to blue-sky thinking. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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