|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
This proposal, which is supported by ATCOthe Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officersis for tendered network zones, a new structure which would enable a local transport authority to co-ordinate one clearly identified network of bus services, what one might call the commercial or tendered side, and the small local bus services. It would cover more than one route and there would clearly be a lot of synergy between the services included in this and in the other networks and services. As drafted, existing local bus services would not be affected by the tendered network zone designation, except that they would not be able to make changes except on the dates agreed by the local transport authority and those changes would be expected to be in accordance with the supporting criteria. This may be a solution to enabling local authorities in areas where most services are tendered to provide better co-ordination by integrating all the bus services in an overall network. I beg to move.
Lord Snape: I do not often disagree with my noble friend Lord Berkeley on these matters, but I fear that I must on this one. I am not sure who inspired this proposal, but it appears to be an attempt to introduce quality contracts for bus service throughout the rest of the country, let alone some of the areas that we have discussed. I do not wish to pre-empt the discussion on quality contractsand I hope that we do not come to that or we may be here a long timebut I suspect that it will prove to be the most controversial part of the Bill.
Speaking to an earlier amendment, my noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to the need for new
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC65
I took exception to the word deminimis. My Latin is fairly sketchy and is based on my very short experience as an altar boy more than 50 years ago, so if we are to use words such as de minimis, they should be explained better for simple former bus and rail men such as me. This new clause does not appear to make any sense at all if the hope is that the industry in general will see an influx of new services in certain areas. It is a bureaucratic nightmare.
I have two questions that I hope my noble friend will be able to answer when he speaks at the end of this debate. They relate to the amount of backing that would be needed to enforce such a tendered network zone. How many people would be involved and how much would it all cost? How many new services does he think would come about, particularly as a result of proposed subsection (2) in his amendment?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My noble friend Lord Snape and I are at one on this issue. I certainly recognise the novelty of the proposition put forward by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. I can see that it is an interesting concept and that it would be an option in some rural areas in particular. However, sympathetic though one might be in those terms, I am sceptical about whether it can work. My noble friend Lord Snape put his finger on the matter very well. Enforcement would certainly be an issue, as would cost, and I question whether the scheme would deliver new services.
However, one should not be entirely dismissive, and I certainly recognise the warm spirit in which the amendment has been moved. In describing it, one could characterise it as being neither a partnership between the local authority and the local transport authority nor a quality contracts scheme; it seems to be a bit of one and a bit of the other but not really something that, in practical terms, appears to be workable. It is not a partnership because it does not require the authority to do anything other than play its part in advising the traffic commissioner on whether to allow services to be registered; nor is it a true quality contracts scheme because, although a majority of the services in the zone have to be tendered, the network will include some that are provided entirely on a commercial basis. Therefore, it is hard to see the proposal being operable.
There would be some restriction of competition, too, as in a quality partnership scheme, but no indication of what competition test, if any, would have to be met. Without such an indication, the provisions of the Competition Act 1998 would apply.
Although I do not want to appear entirely negative about the proposal, the real questions are whether any bus operator would be willing to sign up to such a scheme and whether it could possibly go ahead
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC66
Lord Berkeley: I am very grateful for the responses of both my noble friends. This is clearly a probing amendment and my noble friend Lord Snape, with his expertise in the bus industry, has told me that I have it completely wrong and that I should think again. That may be the case; on the other hand, we have already discussed so many different concerns, options and possible solutions this afternoon, in addition to what is in the existing legislation, that it is probably worth at least floating ideas such as this to see whether a gem comes out of it in the end. Perhaps it will and perhaps it will not.
In responding to me, my noble friend mentioned the competition issue. Having been given this extensive guidance on the competition issue todayand I have tried to read a little of itI shall have to return to the matter later. There are some serious problems with it, but I am sure that we will have good fun talking about it in the future. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14. The quality partnership approach has much potential in producing positive outcomes for passengers. As I and other noble Lords mentioned at Second Reading, the public interest should be paramount when considering bus services. The introduction of fares, frequencies and timings is therefore to be broadly welcomed. However, for a partnership to function properly, there is a need for the arrangement to be fair for both the authority and the operator. I hope to raise some points to develop this argument.
We read with interest Clause 12(4) on the proposed new registration restrictions. I should not like to see the use of quality partnerships unjustly restrict access to the market. The introduction of a quality partnership along a route does indeed raise some points when proposed new services alongside the partnership are considered. Under the clause, the Bill will allow local authorities to specify restrictions on the registration of any local services where they consider it necessary or expedient in cases where such services would be detrimental to the scheme.
The proposals under the clause have potential but I have some concerns. It must be remembered that a low-quality operator by definition would not be able to use the facilities and services provided by the local authority under some of the arrangements. Certainly in regard to the provision of bus shelters, the existence of a quality partnership would preclude the operator from using the corridor anyway as the bus would not be able to pick up passengers from the shelters unless operating in a hail and ride manner.
There may be legitimate reasons for certain services running close to each other rather than at an even headwayfor example, buses with vastly different routes may converge coincidentally on a quality partnership corridor at a similar time. In this case, timings at other points in the network or scheduling efficiencies may be the main concernfor instance, meeting a rail service. Does the Minister agree that these factors should be borne in mind when devising registration restrictions?
On the local transport authority side, Amendment No. 12 would allow local authorities to specify minimum periods of operation on services within a quality partnership area. If the minimum term was, say, a year, that would discourage a bogus operator from deliberately disrupting the market and undermining the quality partnership approach. Frequent changes to the arrangements of bus services factor into the public perception of unreliability.
For similar reasons, Amendment No. 14 seeks to place restrictions on the number of times an operator can change its service per year and to increase the notification period required for each change. At present, 56 days notice is required in England before changing a service; in Scotland, it is 70 days. My amendment proposes that under a quality partnership scheme this would increase to 90 days to discourage services being changed too frequently. As I have mentioned, alongside punctuality, one of the main determinants of the publics perception of reliability is how consistent a service remains over time. Overly frequent changes can serve to undermine the benefits that a collaborative approach would bring.
The amendment has been included in the quality partnership section as it could have real potential in encouraging local transport authorities to take up a quality partnership arrangement. This would prove an additional benefit in setting up a scheme and would further differentiate the quality partnership approach from the voluntary scheme. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Earl has set out an interesting proposal. I certainly agree that there is often merit in ensuring that services in a quality partnership scheme are not varied too frequently, as that could undermine the objectives of the scheme. Thinking of my own experience, I expect a local operator to change its services in the spring and the autumn to reflect different patterns of movement and perhaps also to time with school and college terms and so on. This is not a precise science. The noble Lord is right that the public like to have certainty and knowledge of frequency. I have been particularly pleased in our locality about the use of
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC68
Moving away from that, I do not think that Amendment No. 12 is necessary because of the provisions which would be inserted into Section 114 of the Transport Act 2000 by Clause 12(4). Taken with Clause 42 of this Bill, that would enable a local authority making a quality partnership scheme to place appropriate restrictions on registrations, or variations or cancellations of registrations. Where these registration restrictions applied, the traffic commissioner could not accept an application from an operator to register a service, or to vary or cancel a registration, without first consulting the local authority that made the scheme and any operator that might be affected by the application.
If a scheme includes registration restrictions, it must also specify criteria for the traffic commissioner to apply in deciding whether or not an application will be detrimental to the provision of local services under the scheme. Having considered any representations made in response to the consultation and having applied the registration criteria, the commissioner must then decide whether to accept the application, disallow it or require it to be modified in some way.
In the case of variation or cancellation, it would be possible for one of the criteria to be that the service must have been operated, without variation, for a minimum length of time. Even if that is not a criterion as such, there may be other reasons why, by applying other criteria, a variation or cancellation might be refused. There may also be cases where within a comparatively short term a variation might be beneficial and should not be ruled out; for example, if a service connects with a local train and the train timetable has changed. We would need flexibility for that. I am sure the noble Earl would accept that one would not want to disallow such a variation simply because six months, or whatever time was specified, had not elapsed since the previous variation.
Amendment No. 14 covers the same subject and I fully understand the purpose behind it. A longer period of notice of registrations, variations or cancellations would certainly make it easier for the local transport authority and other operators to plan ahead. There have been similar suggestions from various consultees, with various periods proposed. However, we argue that the amendment is unnecessary because the 56-day period which normally applies to local service registrations is not specified in primary legislation but in regulations made under Section 6 of the Transport Act 1985. Any change to the prescribed period could also be specified in regulations. The notice period has already been amended onceoriginally it was only 42 days and in
6 Dec 2007 : Column GC69
The Department for Transport is intending to review a number of aspects of the existing regulations on local service registration in the light of the new provisions of this Bill and the related policies. One option may be to provide for different registration periods in particular circumstances, but this would be done only following detailed consultation with stakeholders, and there would certainly be plenty of opportunities to set out the case for longer periods of notice for bus registrations, whether in a quality partnership area or more generally. All this can already be done under existing primary legislation and without the need for a specific amendment to the Bill. I think that that addresses the issue that the noble Earl has raised and I therefore hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
Earl Attlee: I am grateful for the Ministers careful and detailed reply. He mentioned seasonal changes. They are of course necessary but they are also predictable and can be promulgated a long time in advance. I shall have to check that my amendment covers that point.
I hope that train timetables are also promulgated, thought out and planned a long way in advance. I shall read the Ministers comments very carefully and, in the mean time, subject to the usual caveats, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: The amendments in this group provide for words to be written into the Bill to enable local transport authorities to agree with operators annual skills targets for drivers and other customer-facing and engineering staff as part of quality partnerships and contracts. The amendments have the support of the sector skills council for the passenger transport industry.
Many bus operators have a strong commitment to improving their workforces and local transport authorities have an interest in a strong quality dimension to bus operations. For example, new buses, bus lanes, video cameras, imaginative ticketing promotions and accessibility measures all have a part to play but the skills dimension is often overlooked in various initiatives to get greater quality into bus travel. For example, increased driving skills provide a better ride for passengers and reduce accidents; more attention to customer service should mean fewer complaints and more satisfied passengers; and disability awareness is part of good customer service, as is good communication with passengers.
The development of skills has been given significant backing through the recent Leitch review, which in particular proposed an employer pledge on basic skills and a first level 2 qualification. It also proposed increasing to in excess of 90 per cent the number of people with a level 2 qualification by 2020. The Leitch report called for a more demand-led approach to skills. That means that employer skills needs are at the forefront of the provision, and that differs from what has sometimes been the previous approach of trying to supply a blanket amount of skilled provision.
The bus industry has had voluntary skills and qualifications and progress has been made. As I said, GoSkills, the sector skills council for the passenger transport industry, works with employers and operators in the passenger transport sector to address problems such as recruitment and retention, skills shortages and sourcing training solutions. Now that we have enhanced national targets and a skills pledge as a vehicle, and we have also had the Leitch report with a renewed emphasis on progress, it would seem appropriate to embed that process of skills development and provide for it to be vested in the close local transport authority/operator relationship set out in the Bill.
Amendment No. 13 would amend Clause 12, on quality partnership schemes, and would add the skills target as part of the standard of service that could be in the scheme. Amendment No. 33, to Clause 18, would insert a new subsection into the relevant provision of the Transport Act 2000 which would enable the skills target to form part of the quality contract scheme. I hope that my noble friend will respond positively. These clauses facilitate an agreement between relevant local authorities and the bus industry; they write requirements into the Bill. Clause 12, relating to the quality partnership schemes, already contains other requirements which may be specified in a scheme, including,
I hope that my noble friend will respond positively. The Government have committed themselves to the Leitch report, and acceptance of the amendments would show that the Government were serious in what they had to say about it. I beg to move.
Earl Attlee: I have Amendment No. 19 in this group. The Bill seeks to amend the Transport Act 2000 to allow frequencies, timings or maximum fares to be included in quality partnerships. That seems sensible.
Lord Snape: I have listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Rosser said. Two questions immediately come to mind: how many and how much? If we are to give local authorities these powers and write them into the Bill, it is incumbent on my noble friend to tell us the cost of such a scheme and from where local authorities will get the expertise that he demands in his amendment. The bus industry does notand never has, as far as I can seethrow the keys to a £250,000 vehicle to someone who walks in off the street. Many companies have specific training schemes for their drivers.
On seeing the amendment, I consulted the Confederation of Passenger Transport on whether there is a general consensus throughout the bus industry. It told me that new drivers undergo at least a three-week training programme prior to passing their PCV test, followed by a further two-week training programme before being allowed to drive on their own. The initial training programme covers topics such as company and depot health and safety procedures, carrying out safety checks on vehicles before leaving the depot, defensive driving, fuel-efficient driving, Highway Code knowledge, hazard-perception training, customer care training, including dealing with the requirements of disabled and elderly people, children and difficult customersas anybody who rides on buses late at night knows, there are plenty of those around. Post-test training is not forgotten either. It includes vehicle familiarisation, route learning and potential hazards on each route, how to issue tickets and cash handling, drivers hours and working time directive, PCV legislation generally, on-road experience with a senior driver, and obtaining NVQ level 2 or BTEC qualifications. Many companies in the industry also offer access to key skill training in English and maths through local courses. From September of next year, much of this training will be incorporated into driver CPC when they are engaged by the company. My noble friend should tell me what the local authorities would do in excess of what the industry already does now.
I have already indicated that my noble friend wants to give them powers for which they have no expertise at the present time. I do not want to sound over-critical of the passenger transport executive in the area where I used to work, but there are more than 300 people working there now. They are not running buses and not running trainsthey are always complaining that they are not doing eitherand demanding greater powers. How many additional staff would local authorities need? Where would they recruit staff with the vast expertise that my noble friend demands?
Again perhaps my noble friend will answer this question: how much will this extra expenditure benefit the passenger, the customer or the person who rides on the bus, however you want to describe them? If this amendment were accepted it would create another vast local authority bureaucracy which would in no way benefit the passenger.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|