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The Department for Transportís Annual Report 2008 (HC 1148-i)

Transport Committee 29 Oct 2008

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29 October 2008
The Department for Transportís Annual Report 2008 (HC 1148-i)
Evidence given by
2.45 Department for Transport Rt. Hon Geoff Hoon MP, Secretary of State Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary, DfT.

Q9 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): You glided over the PFI, but my understanding is that some of the banks and we have got some very major projects, and one of them was a billion pounds on the M25, but there are delays in the banks. A lot of these are not local banks, they are foreign banks. Is that the case? Do we know when that is going to be resolved? If the PFI schemes fall through is there a possibility of direct public funding?

Mr Devereux: I am not expecting the PFI schemes to fall through.

Q10 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Are you expecting delays?

Mr Devereux: Possibly, but actually these things are quite difficult to construct in the first place. The M25 one I am expecting probably to be finishing around the turn of the year, which is a bit slower than I think we had originally hoped. The important thing is the evidence so far has been that there is an appetite for investment in infrastructure from people who want to be in things they can touch, see and have a long return against some of the things which people are moving away from.

Q11 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My understanding is that the banks are just paralysed at the moment and not prepared to give commitments.

Mr Devereux: That is not my understanding.

Mr Hoon: If I may, I asked a very similar question in relation to Crossrail, which has a significant private sector funding element, but I have been assured that the nature of the project and the guarantees that are in place mean that even if a funder were unable to participate that would not affect the viability of the project because of the way in which cross-guarantees have been provided that will ensure that whatever gap arises, if it does arise in the worst eventuality, there will be other sources of funding that can be used to ensure the project goes ahead on time and on budget.

Q12 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Other sources of funding?

Mr Hoon: Yes.

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Q33 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Just on the point about increased numbers, I travelled down on Monday and it was half-term and the overcrowding was horrendous on the West Coast Main Line. We are getting to a situation on lots of trains on the West Coast Main Line where it is like getting onto the London Underground. There were people saying, "You canít get on this carriage. You canít get in this door because thereís just no more room". What are you going to do about the capacity problem on the railways in general and specifically on the West Coast Main Line? The West Coast Main Line has been a success, we have got good trains but we have not got enough of them, we have got increased demand and travelling on those trains now for a lot of people is horrendous. Standing for four hours is not tolerable.

Mr Hoon: And that is not acceptable. Of the £15 billion that Robert referred to, £10 billion is specifically allocated for improvements in capacity and that will take a number of different forms. It will mean longer trains and we have a very substantial programme of acquisition of rolling stock to allow for that. It will mean more trains. It will mean technological improvements that will allow us eventually to put more trains on to the same line and, therefore, to increase the capacity of some of our lines because, as the Committee will know, particularly around London, quite a number of lines are running at existing capacity and there may well be some technological fixes that will allow for greater usage. I am not in any way trying to make light of the difficulties people face. I came down on Monday as well and the impact of half-term was noticeable not only on the train but on the Underground. Again, I hope I am not being over-enthusiastic when I say that is a good thing. People being able to move around the country more frequently, particularly at half-term, demonstrates that not only can they afford to do so but we are providing the structures that enable them to do so, and I suspect that is quite a lot to do with the pricing policies that have been introduced in recent years that make it possible for people to travel from, if I can put it this way, the far north-west to London. That means we have to respond and that is why we have allocated these large amounts of money to improving capacity. We recognise that is an issue and we have to do better.

Mr Devereux: If I might just add, we just announced quite recently, in the last week or so, the order for additional Pendolino carriages to produce both more train sets and longer train sets on the West Coast Main Line. The High Level Output Statement itself has specified that we want another 900,000 passenger kilometres added to something which has only got 5.7 million to start with and that is quite a big increase down that line.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That is tremendous, but it would have been even better if you had done it two years ago when we first started discussing it. The bureaucracy held it up for two years, did it not?

Q34 Chairman: Can you give us a commitment that we will not be in the same situation in the future?

Mr Devereux: I think we can give you a commitment that the things that we have agreed and specified in the High Level Output Statement will be delivered.

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Q55 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): There seems to be a deafening silence on a national road pricing scheme, Secretary of State. Is there going to be an announcement on government policy before the general election?

Mr Hoon: You say "a deafening silence": when Alistair Darling was in this job he published a very comprehensive document setting out the possibilities for road pricing. What has been happening since then is that regular work has been done on the practicalities. Having set out (and I hope he will not regard this as being unkind) the theory, what has been happening since then is to look at some of the practical implications both technologically - how do you do it and there is a variety of different ways in which a national road pricing scheme could be delivered - and indeed the consequences. I am not unmindful of the fact that 1.8 million people signed an on-line petition expressing their opposition to the idea. There are other issues in relation to privacy and so on that have to be dealt with. The idea may be that you make this announcement and then it happens. I know you do not think that is how it works but it is important that we look in detail at how it could be made to work in practice, whilst at the same time acknowledging that there are other forms of road pricing that can be introduced on a more local basis. We are sitting here in London: the congestion charge is a form of road pricing. There are various proposals now in other big cities for different schemes. I do not think it is unhelpful to have the experience of those schemes in different places. We can then evaluate, as we take the practical work forward, on how road pricing might work in practice if we were minded to do it.

Q56 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I take it then that there is going to be no announcement before the general election! You then went on to local road pricing. Do you think that is the way forward? Do you think it is right to be delegating this down and the Government not to be taking decisions?

Mr Hoon: I think it is a way forward. I think that the idea that you can introduce a comprehensive scheme without having thought through some of the practical implications is a bit far-fetched. We have a pretty basic scheme in London. Although I am sure people begrudge paying their £8 to bring their car into London, they know that that is necessary if they wish to travel in the zone, but it is a fairly catch-all system in the time of the day that it operates. Manchesterís proposal for example is quite a bit more subtle; it only operates at peak times and is not the same kind of scheme as London has. There are other schemes at various stages of development which are different. I think it is quite encouraging for local authorities, combinations of local authorities, to examine what might be the best kind of scheme for them and bring forward proposals. That is exactly what the Department encourages.

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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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB