Commons Gate

Departmental Annual Report 2007 (HC 1104-i)

Transport Committee 24 Oct 2007

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Evidence given by: Department for Transport, Rt. Hon Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State and Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary, DfT.

Q35 Chairman: The information that local authorities hold, because they have not yet got quality partnerships, will largely have been given to them by the bus companies. If you will forgive me saying so, this is a circular argument. The question is really quite straightforward. If the National Audit Office is not confident that the figures being used by the department are accurate - and they have in fact been challenged apparently - do you make any effort to check the accuracy of the information that you are using from the bus companies?

Mr Devereux: I thought you said it was the Audit Commission's doubts about local government data, not the department's data in the National Audit Office report, just to be clear what the charge is.

Q36 Mr. Eric Martlew: Would it be likely that local authorities will overestimate the bus usage because they are on a deficit with concessionary fares? Therefore, I suspect that some local authorities' figures will be bogus.

Ruth Kelly: There is clearly an issue about getting reliable data for concessionary fares. It is very difficult to determine precisely what is happening in every local authority area. The figures from bus operators are more reliable. I also think from memory that we have looked at this point and are convinced that the data against which we report the PSA target is accurate.

Q37 Mrs Ellman: You are satisfied it is?

Mr Devereux: Let us go away and find out.


Q70 Mr. Eric Martlew: I was thinking what I had to moan about. I was looking round the constituency and the A74 between my constituency and the Scottish border is being made into a motorway. You have just given the go ahead for a northern development road and the village called Temple Sowerby on the A66 has just had a bypass and they have been waiting 30 years. It was ahead of schedule. I did come up with something. When you were first made Secretary of State - I think it was your first Question Time - I asked you a question about the high speed link to the north and you were very dismissive of that. If you look at the Eddington report, while he dismisses Maglev, he does not dismiss the high speed train at all. The reality is that we have a capacity problem on the west coast main line. There will be some improvements in the future but we do need to increase capacity. A high speed line is not unusual in this country because we have got one of course and the Queen will hopefully be opening St Pancras very soon. It is a tried and tested type of technology. Why is your department dead set against a high speed train to the north?

Ruth Kelly: We are not dead set against a high speed rail link. It was not the right answer for now.

Q71 Chairman: Half dead set?

Ruth Kelly: Let me explain myself more fully. If you follow the Eddington analysis, his basic point was that, as an island nation which is relatively small, we have pretty good connectivity between our major cities. You can get from London to Manchester and back in a day, for example. In other countries such as France, for example, that is not necessarily the case. Our basic connectivity is good. The big challenges that he identified for our system going forward were capacity and how we meet the challenge of increasing capacity but also improving reliability for people. He identified reliability, which I do not think we thought about nearly enough in the past, as a really big issue for passengers. It is something that we intend to correct going forward. The question is: if you have a finite transport budget which of course we do, even though we now have the long term funding guideline in place, what is the best way to use that to maximise the increase in capacity and to maximise the effect on reliability? We set out a funding plan for five years which I think tackles those pinch points, invests in the necessary infrastructure and signalling which will help improve train frequencies, which puts on additional carriages, platform lengthening and so forth. As we move forward to the next period, if the railway continues to grow as it is growing at the moment, which is very rapidly after decades of decline, it may be that a high speed link is the appropriate answer to that. I am completely with Eddington here. Rather than jumping to the solution, we should think about what the actual problem is. If the problem for instance is the link between London and Birmingham, we should look at the high speed option against the road widening option, against better use of the road network, and think about what stacks up best in value for money benefit cost terms. It may be that high speed is the answer but we do not need to make that decision yet and we will make it at the appropriate time.

Q72 Mr. Eric Martlew: It is the time that worries me, Secretary of State. I accept that we can overcome the capacity problems on the railway in the medium term but a project of, say, building a high speed link from London to Manchester would take, I would think, beyond ten years. Can you give us some indication of what the timescale will be, when that decision will be taken about how we are going to deal with the capacity problems of the future?

Ruth Kelly: Again, it very much depends on what happens to rail growth per se. One thing we are not very good at is trying to predict what is happening to rail patronage 10, 20 or 30 years from now, which is why we deliberately took the view: let us concentrate on getting the first five year period right up to 2014 and then think again, before the end of that period clearly, about what the next investment should be. If rail continues to grow or indeed grows faster than we predict, it may be that we will need to consider this for the next control period. What I am not going to do now is somehow anticipate what is likely to happen to rail patronage over the next seven years.

Q73 Mr. Eric Martlew: When you gave the negative answer to the Chamber, you have now looked at it again and it is not being ruled out.

Ruth Kelly: I hope I did not give the impression that it was ruled out. It did not seem the best use of £30 billion in the first control period, the period of the Rail White Paper and funding commitments. I think people often assume that a high speed rail link is incredibly good for journey times and the environment. Neither of those is necessarily the case. The high speed rail link that stops at every station, no matter what speed it does between stops, is not going to shorten your end to end journey time that much. It will be good or bad for the environment depending on the power source that is used to make it go.

Q74 Mr. Eric Martlew: This is the bit that worries me about the thinking of the department. You threw in a figure of £30 billion. Where does that figure come from?

Ruth Kelly: That is officials' best estimate.

Q75 Mr. Eric Martlew: Where will this high speed link go?

Ruth Kelly: I think that is assuming a high speed link right up to Scotland.

Q76 Mr. Eric Martlew: This is all the way to Glasgow?

Ruth Kelly: In the Rail White Paper we specifically said that we need to look at the London/Birmingham corridor if there was a significant increase in rail patronage.

Q77 Mr. Eric Martlew: That would not be £30 billion?

Ruth Kelly: Clearly not. That is why it might be a more viable option.

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

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