Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560 - 579)

WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001

MR T MATTHEWS AND MR R THORNDIKE

Chairman

  560. Are you contemplating charging at any point in the future?
  (Mr Matthews) For the removal of vehicles?

  561. Yes.
  (Mr Matthews) No, we have no plans to do that.

Mr O'Brien

  562. What about charging people for using safe havens.
  (Mr Matthews) No; there is no plan to do that.

Chairman

  563. It would not be unheard of, however, for Treasury to change their minds about the provision of a service, would it?
  (Mr Matthews) That would be a decision for Ministers at the time.

  564. It would also have an effect on the motoring organisations in this country.
  (Mr Matthews) Yes. I am sure that Ministers would want to use the consultative organisations like the Motorists' Forum to discuss any such matter. There are no plans at this stage to raise any charges in this area.

Miss McIntosh

  565. Has the formula been reviewed for the basis on which roundabouts are constructed?
  (Mr Matthews) Not as far as I am aware.
  (Mr Thorndike) We do have an ongoing research programme into areas like roundabout design and as research is completed that is put into our design standards. I cannot recall when the last change was made but we can find that out.

  566. I should be interested if you could. I understand the formula is based upon the number of fatalities before a roundabout will be constructed on a particular road.
  (Mr Thorndike) No, that is not the case. There are two different aspects there. You were talking about roundabout design and that is the physical design of the roundabout. The justification of when you put one in is done on a comprehensive approach. It follows appraisal where you do look at safety, economy, environment, accessibility and integration. Those are the factors which are taken into account in assessing whether to implement a roundabout. You then look at the detailed design.

  567. Just to spare your blushes you may wish to write to me on this next point. I gather that it was announced and expected that the roundabout at the junction of the A19 and the A1237, the outer York ringroad, was expected to proceed today; sometime this week certainly. It has now been postponed because no contracts have been signed, no contractors have been appointed, yet it is understood that the work is going to go on for some seven months, which seems a staggeringly long time. I should be interested to know whether it is in connection with the Park and Ride scheme and the basis on which it has been agreed that particular roundabout will be expanded when it was very difficult to put a roundabout in place in Easingwold.

  Chairman: We shall expect you to communicate directly with Miss McIntosh on that.

Miss McIntosh

  568. May I return to the point about resurfacing? The Highways Agency has gone on the record of this new resurfacing programme, particularly resurfacing concrete roads. What proportion of the ten-year programme money is going to be spent on resurfacing?
  (Mr Thorndike) I can tell you how much is going to be spent on the maintenance side. I do not actually have with me the amount for resurfacing.

Chairman

  569. We will accept another note on that.
  (Mr Thorndike) Yes, I can do that.

  570. I want to bring you back to money. Is it true that you have handed back about £3.5 million to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions for the last year?
  (Mr Matthews) In 1999-2000 yes, a sum of £3.5 million running cost was passed back.

  571. How many staff did you originally think you were going to need for your new duties?
  (Mr Matthews) The estimate made at the time of the spending review 2000 for the immediate period was an additional 200 staff.

  572. And you have not been able to recruit them.
  (Mr Matthews) We have not been able to recruit all of those, no. What gave rise to at least part of the £3.5 million being handed back was the fact that the timing of the money and the ability to appoint the staff were not properly in sync.

  573. Why? If you need staff presumably you advertise and if they have the qualifications you appoint them.
  (Mr Matthews) That is right, but there was a delay, as I understand it, in receiving confirmation of the allocation so the recruitment process did not start as soon as was anticipated when the allocation was set. Also it was not possible to recruit to those levels immediately.

  574. Has that put enormous stress on your existing staff?
  (Mr Matthews) What was done was that we appointed a mix of in-house staff and Agency and consultancy staff to support the development of the programme. Our view is, certainly for the work we were required to undertake last year and into this year, that we had sufficient resources to undertake that. We are now trying to rebalance that between numbers of staff we employ directly and the numbers employed through consultancies.

  575. I am not clear now. The Agency thought it needed a certain number of people. It did not recruit those people. Considerable stress was put on your existing staff, which caused confusion and difficulty, so much so that you had to hand back the money you were given to recruit staff because you had not done what you were asked to do. Now you say you are trying to rebalance—whatever that means—in order to get a better result. Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Matthews) No, what I am saying is because we are cash limited annually we could not spend—

  576. You have always been cash limited annually. You do not operate differently from the way you ever have. You are a First Steps Agency.
  (Mr Matthews) We were given an allocation too late in the year to be able to recruit the numbers of staff, so we did not need the money in that year. We did need it in subsequent years because by the time we had recruited the mix of permanent and contract staff that money was required in the budget on an ongoing basis.

  577. Did that affect your ability to do your job?
  (Mr Matthews) No, it did not affect our ability to deliver our programmes either in that year or—

  578. Not at all? It did not cause any difficulty for your existing staff.
  (Mr Matthews) I do not want to run with the kind of balance we have had recently of full-time and contract staff. It was an understandable and justifiable response to getting staff in post, but now that we have greater security over the medium term on the scale of our programme, we can recruit with more confidence on a permanent basis and lessen the need for the contract staff. It is quite legitimate to use contract staff to cover short-term gaps in particular areas of skill where you have particular levels of work to achieve but not over the longer term. That is what I said we were trying now to rebalance.

  579. So can you give your staff some genuine guarantees that in future they are going to find it possible to work efficiently, they are not going to be given two or three times more work than they can achieve and you will not be looking for alternative means of trying to bring people in on a short-term basis.
  (Mr Matthews) We shall only use short-term contracts where a particular skill is needed which we cannot fill from our own staff or through recruitment or where we need that job done on a short-term basis. Certainly in all the discussions I have had with trade unions they accept that it is not sensible to bring in a lot of full-time staff if they are tackling short-term issues which then means we are potentially overmanned in different areas. Those are discussions we have with the staff side.


 
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