The draft Local Transport Bill (HC 692-iv)
Transport Committee 11 Jul 2006
Evidence given by: 2.45 p.m. Peter Wilkinson, Managing Director for Policy, Research and Studies, Andrew Walford, Service Head for Environment, The Audit Commission; 3.15 p.m. Philip Brown, Senior Traffic Commissioner and South Eastern and Metropolitan traffic area, Tom Macartney, North Eastern traffic area and Beverley Bell, North Western traffic area, Traffic Commissioners.
Q624 Mr. David Clelland: I agree with you that there is nothing unusual or new about local authorities coming together to develop issues in the interests of a wider area. The Tyne and Wear metro system came about because four local authorities came together voluntarily even before PTEs and PTAs invented. I am curious as to what you mean by this word "accountability". Should these organisations be accountable to the electorate, to the passengers or the road users? What does this word "accountability" mean in that context?
Mr Wilkinson: Accountability is about the process by which people make their decisions transparent and are answerable for their decisions. I think there are a number of ways in which that can be done. I do not have specific figures but I was trying to look up what people had said to us in research we did on sub-national accountability. There are councillors, it says here, who are in particular very aware of their own status as directly elected representatives. They sometimes take the view that powers exercised at a regional level could be more appropriately exercised at a local level and they feel they have insufficient influence over regional bodies and find their own roles and responsibilities at regional level confusing.
Q625 Mr. David Clelland: Does that lead us to the conclusion that these organisations should be directly elected?
Mr Wilkinson: It is not in one sense for the Audit Commission to give an opinion about that. That is a different matter. However, the elected nature of the representatives who are on the PTA, they feel very accountable to their electorate. That is welcome.
Q626 Mr. David Clelland: They are accountable to their constituent local authorities, the people who sent them there.
Mr Wilkinson: They are also reporting that they feel that there are multiple lines of accountability at sub-national level and they find that confusing. The accountability is itself confusing. In our submission to the Treasury, what we are actually saying is we need to get a degree of clarity about that, but the precise form in which you achieve that is not really for my Commission to have an opinion on.
Q627 Mr. David Clelland: I am not sure we are getting very much clarity on how the situation might be improved. This is not leading us to where we can say in our report, "This is how we improve this accountability." We do not seem to be getting any further forward on that.
Mr Wilkinson: I apologise for that. I was asked specifically what would we change in the Bill. From our perspective, there is nothing that we feel we are in a position to say should change because it would make things better or worse. The point that we are making from the beginning is that this is an enabling Bill that has the potential to make things better but Whitehall cannot mandate that. The question for us is how all this is implemented at a local level, which we feel is a very important and quite complex issue.
Q660 Mr. David Clelland: Perhaps it is because traffic commissioners have to take a rather sober view of things but I get the impression that you are not particularly excited about this Bill. Do you think the measures taken together in the Bill have the potential to improve public transport?
Mr Brown: If I take the example of the ability to say, "Whichever big bus group you are you have not performed properly in this particular traffic area, not only will I reduce the number of vehicles and stop you running these routes; I will stop any of your other associated companies operating in this area", that has happened before, whereby they just ignore the direction. I think that should make a difference in terms of the operators. It depends upon the other issues. It cannot do that alone but there are some very good ideas in there on focusing the minds of operators and local transport authorities on the fact that there is an independent regulator who can take action against both of those bodies and say to the Secretary of State for example, "It is not working. What are you going to do about it? I will send you this report. What do you want to do under the Traffic Management Act?" There are possibilities in there.
Q661 Mr. David Clelland: Are there any good ideas that are not in there?
Mr Brown: Yes.
Mr Macartney: I have one or two. I am principally concerned with safety, as I hope we all are. At the moment, VOSA is entitled to impound illegal and unlicensed goods vehicles but not passenger vehicles. I think that is a terrible mistake. There are known to be some unsafe, unlicensed passenger vehicles in operation. Some in my area are the subject of great complaint by other operators and members of the public. If those unsafe, unlicensed vehicles could be impounded, it would solve the problem very quickly and the legislation already exists for goods vehicles. It would be easy to copy. The second issue I have is on section 19 powers. It is in the Bill that those will come to traffic pressures. Those are largely unregulated at the moment. There are roughly 3,500 section 19 powers issued by traffic commissioners, roughly 4,500 issued by local authorities. They cost £11 each and they are issued for life on a single sheet of paper. There is very little regulation over them. We have no idea how many have occurred. When we come to traffic measures, as is envisaged in the Bill, we need to regulate them a little bit more with a light touch, but nevertheless I am concerned that we keep them safe.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
The full transcript may be read at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmtran/uc692-iv/uc69202.htm
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