Departmental Annual Report 2007 (HC 1104-i)
Transport Committee 24 Oct 2007
Evidence given by: Department for Transport, Rt. Hon Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State and Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary, DfT.
Q23 Mr. David Clelland: I was particularly interested that the Secretary of State has already referred to public service agreement target 5 to deliver reliable and efficient transport networks that support economic growth, which the department leads, and public service agreement seven, improving the economic performance of all English regions and reducing the growth gap between regions, in which the department has a supporting role. It was refreshing to hear the Secretary of State's determination to do better in the department. I know she has only recently come to the job. I wondered how the changes she has proposed would impact specifically on those two targets because they are certainly very important as far as the north east of England is concerned.
Ruth Kelly: Developing a transport infrastructure which supports economic growth and gives a reliable end to end journey time for the individual passenger is right at the heart of everything we should do. The main lesson from Eddington was that we should be - and we are as a department; I think the capability review suggests this - using the evidence to support the decisions that we take. We are as a department very good at doing that, I understand. What we have to do I think in future is make sure first of all that our appraisal system is the best that it can be. As I was just explaining, we are about to consult on that. Also, that we think about what is holding back economic growth in each region, what are the constraints that could be unlocked by better transport infrastructure? It is pretty clear for example in London that transport is a barrier to the growth of London. It is also pretty clear from the work that the Northern Way has done across the three northern regions that they see transport to be holding back economic growth in a variety of ways. What we have to do all the time is be rigorous about identifying the constraints to economic growth and investing accordingly so as to unlock that growth. That is why I really welcomed for instance the Northern Way study and why just recently I announced that we wanted to look very seriously at their top priority which was for a Manchester rail hub which could potentially help the three northern regions develop more in the future. I have announced a feasibility study into that going forward.
Q24 Mr. David Clelland: So far as the north east is concerned for instance, it has been well known for 20 years that the road network is inadequate. Indeed, the last major improvement to the A1 through the north east was 20 years ago. This is affecting economic growth and all of the partners and stakeholders in the region agree that economic growth and activity are being affected by the inadequacy of the road network. Yet we are told by the Highways Agency that, despite the fact this has been looked at for 20 years, we cannot expect to get a report on what improvements might take place before 2009 and we cannot expect any substantial improvement to take place before 2015. If that is the case, how on earth are these targets going to be met in the north east of England?
Ruth Kelly: Where there are clear priorities that are constraining economic growth and we have the resources to meet those, those are the ones that we shall prioritise. I think it is right to say that there are improvements to the A1 network in the north east which have been identified by the Highways Agency, as you say, as important to the development of the north east. If, when they go through that detailed consideration, they emerge as providing very good value for money and are one of the priorities to unlock economic growth in the way that I have just described, then clearly that is something that the Highways Agency will want to take forward. I do not want to put you under any illusions here that we have lots of money for roads which is currently uncommitted because quite frankly we do not. It would be some time before there are resources in the system which we could commit to a project such as that.
Q25 Mr. David Clelland: I do not think we are under any illusions, Secretary of State. We do not in the north east region get a good service from your department. That is generally agreed across the region, regardless of what statistics you might want to come up with. Indeed, I think that was confirmed by the Comprehensive Spending Review when the Chancellor referred to a number of major road improvements throughout the country. I think he mentioned the M1, the M6 and anywhere but the A1 north of Yorkshire. Therefore, we feel that these targets which look very good on paper do not seem to apply as far as the north east is concerned, because we have been told that we cannot expect any major improvements before 2015.
Ruth Kelly: We are currently looking at our roads programme and I think the Chancellor in his pre-budget report and the Comprehensive Spending Review made reference to three particular motorway schemes which are already a long way down the line and incredibly important to our national infrastructure to deliver economic growth. Clearly, beyond that, we have to prioritise rigorously. If the case is made for the A1, then in due course that will come into the roads programme but before that case is properly examined and determined in the light of the overall priorities I am afraid I cannot make any commitment.
Mr. David Clelland: I think the case has been made over many years. It is just that no one seems to be listening to it.
Q42 Mr. David Clelland: Are you familiar with the Tyne and Wear metro system, Secretary of State?
Ruth Kelly: I have never travelled on it but I am familiar with it in a different sense.
Q43 Mr. David Clelland: That is a light rail system which is extremely popular and extremely efficient but it is now coming up to 26 years old. Your department was given a plan for improving the metro system some time ago now over the next 20 years. I am pleased to say - thank you very much - the department has approved the first stage of that but that is only ticket machines and barriers. Obviously, because it is 26 years old, the rolling stock is 26 years old and all of the infrastructure is 26 years old. When can we expect a favourable reply from the department on the rest of the programme?
Ruth Kelly: I am not quite sure whether this is something that should be considered within the regional funding allocation, but I understand that it is. Clearly, if it were prioritised within the regional funding allocation, it would secure the resources to do more of the work.
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/uc1104-i/uc110402.htm
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