The draft Local Transport Bill (HC 692-v)
Transport Committee 18 Jul 2006
Evidence given by Rt. Hon Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State for Transport, Steve Gooding, Director of the Road Pricing and Statistics Directorate Bob Linnard, Director of Regional and Local Transport Policy Directorate.
Q732 Mr. David Clelland: Clauses 9 to 12 refer to the approvals board which will be empowered to hold inquiries into the proposals and the Transport Tribunal. Are you confident that any legal challenge to quality contracts by bus operators will not be successful?
Ruth Kelly: No, you can never be confident 100% but as I say this process minimises the risk of a successful legal challenge. Obviously, this is something that has huge implications for existing bus operators and potentially human rights as well, but we think we have tailored the public interest test in such a way that it will work for local authorities intending to go for quality contracts, but also with the appeals process and so forth which will minimise that risk.
Q733 Mr. David Clelland: Why does the Bill not contain any provisions for transitional arrangements where quality contracts are being put in place?
Ruth Kelly: As I said, the traffic commissioner body may be able to oversee transition, but one of the issues that we want to draw out in consultation is precisely how that might work and what issues would need to be addressed.
Q734 Mr. David Clelland: Will employees in areas that adopt quality contracts be protected by TUPE?
Ruth Kelly: Yes.
Q735 Mr. David Clelland: What about operators, will they be given compensation in the event of a quality contract in an area where they are the dominant operator?
Ruth Kelly: I do not think this is an issue where compensation would apply because we are not taking away their assets, what we are doing is saying that they do not have the right to run those assets in that particular way but they could obviously redeploy them elsewhere in the country.
Q736 Mr. David Clelland: What about the argument that local authorities and PTAs have, they told us that the senior traffic commissioner has no democratic accountability; why should not they themselves be permitted to approve contracts?
Ruth Kelly: Why should not the senior traffic commissioner be able to?
Q737 Mr. David Clelland: No, the PTAs and local authorities; they are democratically accountable so why should not they be the ones that approve the contracts?
Ruth Kelly: Why should there be the second tier built in to the approval process?
Q738 Mr. David Clelland: Yes.
Ruth Kelly: Again, there are proposals on the table which are reasonably sensible ones. As we go forward I want to hear the views of others as to whether we have struck exactly the right balance with the approvals board and then the appeals system as well.
Q739 Mr Martlew: I have asked a number of witnesses regarding the position in my own constituency where, the same as in many other constituencies, we have a monopoly situation with Stagecoach. It is an urban area of about 70,000 people and basically when you talk to the county council they say this Bill will make very little difference to the way that the buses run in my area. Do you agree with that?
Ruth Kelly: No, I do not, there are opportunities for every sort of council and every sort of area through this Bill, whether it is urban or whether it is rural or whether it is semi-rural. Really we are looking for the local authorities to be creative in how they integrate transport strategies and how in particular they run local bus services. There is this huge potential for improvements in bus punctuality and reliability and making sure that we have the right services in the right places, running with the right frequency and the right standards. Clearly, in some areas that is working quite well and indeed we know that in areas like Brighton and Nottingham and so forth where there is a single operator that system has already produced dividends, a voluntary partnership. What we would like to see through this Bill is that sort of co-operation or indeed franchising where co-operation does not produce what is required to be extended through the rest of the country, but in addition to those measures on buses in this Bill there are also other measures which local authorities could benefit from, for instance the relaxation of the rules or the deregulation of the rules on community transport which, in rural areas in particular, could make a real difference - for example, being able to pay drivers of minibuses when they are in the community transport setting and not having so strict a system on the numbers of people that can be carried and so forth. There are potentially many different ways for this Bill to help people across the country.
Q740 Mr. David Clelland: How soon do you think our constituents will be able to benefit from the improvements in this Bill? The PTAs have estimated that it could take up to five years to implement a contract?
Ruth Kelly: I think they can start benefiting much, much sooner. The key here is for local authorities to concentrate now, as indeed many are doing, on trying to work in co-operation with the bus operators to deliver improvements. There is no reason they cannot start working on partnership arrangements or indeed developing quality contracts now in anticipation of the Bill because there is of course already legislation on the statute book which delivers a form of quality contract. I hope that people will start already to be benefiting from this legislation, albeit in draft.
Q762 Mr. David Clelland: Secretary of State, you said to Mr Stringer that the Department was not blackmailing local authorities into introducing road pricing schemes but how then do you explain the letter from the Highways Agency to local authorities in Tyne & Wear that there can be no major improvements to the A1 Western Bypass, which is one of the ten most congested roads in the country, until they come up with innovative schemes for demand management?
Ruth Kelly: Clearly I have not had the opportunity to see that letter and I would be interested in seeing it. We want every local authority to be thinking hard about demand management given that congestion will be a really big issue over the coming years. As I said, on road pricing we are asking for people to come forward with propositions, we are not forcing it on anyone as far as I understand it.
Q763 Mr. David Clelland: I hope you will look into that letter because the officer who is leading the TIF [Transport Innovation Fund] process in Tyne & Wear has expressed his surprise at such a statement because he did not see why those two things should necessarily be linked. We have been demanding improvements to this road for the last 20 years and now that we have been told that nothing can happen until the TIF process is finished and some sort of road pricing scheme brought in that is just not acceptable.
Ruth Kelly: I am very happy to look into that for you.
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-v/uc69202.htm
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