Performance of the Department for Transport (HC 76-i)
Transport Committee 2 Dec 2009
Evidence given by Rt Hon Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport and Mr Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport.
Q46 Mr. David Clelland: Secretary of State, when you were last before the Committee on 4 November you were asked by Mrs Ellman if you had been consulted on proposals for reductions in the transport budget and your reply was: "We are not at the moment looking at reductions in the budget ." Does that remain the case?
Lord Adonis: It does remain the case, yes.
Q47 Mr. David Clelland: It is interesting that the Winter Supplementary Estimate includes a transfer of £350 million to the Department for Communities and Local Government for affordable housing under the government Building Britain's Future programme. £300 million has been taken from the railways capital programme which was previously provided as part of the fiscal stimulus and £50 million from unallocated funds. What impact is this going to have on planning capital funding?
Lord Adonis: That was from uncommitted funding.
Q48 Mr. David Clelland: £350 million?
Lord Adonis: We made a contribution from uncommitted funding. When I say "uncommitted funding" it was uncommitted at the point at which we made it, but this was in the context of a decision we made including a decision not to proceed with the order for diesel trains which was part of the decision on electrification, so there was a whole set of interlocking decisions that took place but the decision on electrification, which is what made it possible for us not to proceed on the order for diesel trains, of course involves very significant new investments in the railways. This was not, as we saw it, a reduction in the committed budget.
Q49 Mr. David Clelland: You do not regard that as a cut?
Lord Adonis: It was not a reduction in the committed budget.
Q50 Mr. David Clelland: So we can be assured that there will not be any impact on capital programmes, particularly in the northern region, as Angela Smith said earlier, there is going to be no danger of the additional rolling stock or anything being threatened by this?
Lord Adonis: I can give you an assurance that that transfer of funds in respect of social housing has not led to any change to the commitments of the Department after taking account of the decisions that have been made on diesel trains and electrification.
Q51 Mr. David Clelland: It seems a huge amount of money to have been able to save quite simply from the way you are describing it.
Lord Adonis: Well, it was a very important priority for the Government as a whole to be able to proceed with additional social housing.
Q52 Mr. David Clelland: Yes of course.
Lord Adonis: And a number of departments made contributions to make that possible.
Q53 Mr. David Clelland: I appreciate that. What we are concerned about as the Transport Select Committee is whether this is going to have an impact on the capital programme for the Department for Transport and you can assure us that it will not?
Lord Adonis: It does not have an impact on any of the commitments that we currently have.
Q62 Mr. David Clelland: Would this not be an incentive though for the regions, which we have all argued do very badly out of the transport budget in comparison to London and the South East? Would this not be a good incentive for franchisees within the regions to increase growth?
Lord Adonis: There is a strong incentive on them to do so anyway because of course the train operating companies, because they receive a share of the additional income, have a very strong incentive to maximise revenue and to grow passenger numbers. The regions have a strong incentive too, partly because of course the local authorities support modal shift. Virtually all local authorities have as an avowed policy aim moving passengers from road and, where appropriate, air on to train to reach the policy objective and of course because more people use the trains when it comes to respecifying the franchises the case for an improved service level in new franchises increases too. So I think there is a win/win but, unfortunately, I cannot offer to give you back the regional gains because I need them to meet big pressures we have got in other parts of the rail budget.
Q104 Mr. David Clelland: Are there any plans to extend the strategic road network?
Lord Adonis: No, on the contrary. Through the process which goes under this wonderful word "de-trunking" - I did not know what de-trunking was until I entered this Department. I thought it was a rather horrible operation but in fact de-trunking is the process of transferring roads from the strategic road network and responsibilities of the Highway Agency through to local authorities. A substantial part of the road network has been transferred to local authorities, largely with an enthusiastic response from them because they believe that they can manage it with more local sensitivity than we do nationally, but I know that there are differing views on this.
Q105 Mr. David Clelland: Yes. Much of that enthusiasm will depend on the state of the road when it becomes de-trunked, obviously, because that can have cost implications for the local authorities concerned. People express surprise to me when I tell them that the A1, which is the only road which directly links the great cities of London and Edinburgh, is in fact not a trunk road for the whole of its length and once you get north of Newcastle it has been, as you say, de-trunked, which has led to a situation where, of course, because local authorities do not have resources, the road is not kept up to the same standard as the rest of the 300 miles or whatever it is. Is that not something which concerns you?
Lord Adonis: I have answered more Parliamentary Questions on the issue of the status of the A1 north of Newcastle than probably any other stretch of road in the country, and I do understand the very strongly held views on this by many parliamentarians in both Houses, which of course is directly related to the issue of upgrading it. It is not its status; it is whether its status could lead to it being upgraded. The issue though for my Department is that the A1 north of Newcastle - it is not that it does not meet the requirements in terms of traffic flows for being part of the strategic the road network; it does not come close to meeting them so the judgement we had to make was, given that it does not, would it be appropriate to go against the policy that applies everywhere else in the country?
Q106 Mr. David Clelland: One of your objectives as a Department is to contribute to better safety by reducing the risk of death and injury. This stretch of road is notorious for serious injury and deaths. Surely that must be taken into account?
Lord Adonis: That is an issue but, of course, that is an issue for the local authorities that are responsible for the road.
Q107 Mr. David Clelland: But they do not have the resources.
Lord Adonis: The issue for them, of course, is how they prioritise projects within their region and again, I know that that is a fraught issue too because there are more projects that people want to fund than there is funding available. To make the point that I have made in our previous exchanges on this, we are investing a large sum of money on upgrading the A1 south of Newcastle, £327 million on the current work on upgrading the A1 from Dishforth to Leeming, and then the Leeming to Barton extension south of Newcastle will be a further £342 million, so there is a significant investment coming from the government directly into the upgrading of the A1.
Q108 Mr. David Clelland: I accept and acknowledge that, and that is gratefully received in the North. It is not before time that we were linked up to the rest of the motorway system, but coming back to the road north of Newcastle, are you aware that the North Northumberland Coroner, presiding over yet another inquest when two drivers were killed because of the nature of the road north of Newcastle, has described the A1 north of Berwick as the weakest link in the road between London and Edinburgh and has predicted there will be more preventable deaths in future unless the road is given a higher priority for upgrading and duelling. It is all very well to point out to us that this is the responsibility of local authorities, but the point is that local authorities, as you have just outlined yourself, do not have the resources to spend on this road alone, in isolation from the rest of the regional demands for transport spending. What can be done to overcome that? People are going to die as a result of the state of this road unless something is done about it.
Lord Adonis: I simply have to say that this is an important issue which the region needs to weigh as it makes its own priorities on spending.
Q109 Mr. David Clelland: Yes, but the point is it has not got the resources. The local authorities cannot do it on their own.
Lord Adonis: There is an issue whether the road should be part of a strategic road network or the local authority network. For the reasons I have given, it is part of the local authority network, not the strategic road to work. However, I have to say that if it did become part of the strategic road network, it would also go into a very intense competition for resources and it would be unlikely, given competing pressures, to receive early investment in any event, even if it did move, so I would not want people in the North East, for whom this is an important issue, to believe that the pot of gold lies in transferring the road from the local authority network to the strategic road network. It would be facing very stiff competition and, of course, the fact that we are spending such a large sum of money on upgrading the A1 south of Newcastle means that there are already very big public commitments to this road in any event.
Q110 Mr. David Clelland: Perhaps you can find another £350 million worth of savings that could contribute towards doing something about the A1 north of Newcastle.
Lord Adonis: We will look hard.
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 here.
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