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

Examination of Witness (Questions 660 - 679)



  660. You would support the use of the funds for that purpose?
  (Ms Wallace) I think I have said all I can on it. They are not funds I am responsible for, but the rules make it perfectly possible for them to be spent on that.

  661. What should be done to address the higher than average levels of road casualties experienced by certain ethnic and social groups?
  (Ms Wallace) Again, we have not done the work so I do not have the answer.

  662. Can I give you a few examples? Research by the DETR shows that Asian children, for example, are twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian accidents as the average child in the United Kingdom. Children in poorer social classes are far more likely to be injured or killed by motorists. That is an indication that there is some kind of relationship between certain ethnic groups and also certain social groups and higher levels of injury from accidents as a result of walking.
  (Ms Wallace) I am certainly aware that there are higher rates of road accidents amongst poorer groups. I do not know if there is a separate ethnic minority effect or whether, if you live in poverty, you would be more likely to live in an area where there may be fast traffic or poor facilities or whatever. That is one of the research questions we need to look at. In terms of policy proposals, that is several months down the road.

  663. It is something you intend to look at in terms of your research and possibly, resulting from that, bring forward some proposals?
  (Ms Wallace) Over the next month, we will be deciding the questions we need to answer but I cannot see any reason why this would not be one of them.

  664. Do you support calls for restriction of traffic on residential roads to reduce speeds?
  (Ms Wallace) Again, this is something on which we do not have a policy yet because we are only starting our work. I think all I can do is talk about the government's general policy on home zones and things like that, where clearly there are experiments going on.

Mr Olner

  665. Most of the areas where people do not want to walk are perhaps on some of the badly maintained housing estates. That is perhaps because there is insufficient money within the housing revenue account to be able to maintain them properly. Do you think local authorities will be able to get specific moneys in regeneration to assist them in this task?
  (Ms Wallace) I am not sure about your premise that most of the areas people do not feel happy to walk in are badly maintained housing estates. We do not yet know whether that is true. That is something we will look into. We are bound to look into issues of, where there are problems, what are they? Why are they caused? If it is a funding problem, that is something we are bound to look into.

Mrs Ellman

  666. Do you think there is a link between walking and health in tackling social exclusion?
  (Ms Wallace) I think it is well established there is, yes.

  667. If it is well established, what have you been doing in your unit to develop that?
  (Ms Wallace) We work on a project basis and this is the first time we have been asked to look at transport, so we are looking at it now.

  668. You have been looking at urban renewal policies. Have you not thought about this in that context?
  (Ms Wallace) The government's approach to urban renewal we have been involved in and we have been involved in doing things such as creating the fund that I was just talking to Mr Donaldson about, the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and the New Deal for Communities, that gives quite a lot of flexibility at local level to spend money on the five key goals of neighbourhood renewal, one of which is health. There is quite a lot of flexibility about how to do it. The Social Exclusion Unit has not come up with specific prescriptions on that area, but there is a lot of flexibility in the general framework, which I think is helpful.

  669. Under that category of health in neighbourhood renewal, what sort of things do you think you could contribute?
  (Ms Wallace) Quite a lot is going on through the things that the Department of Health is doing—for example, its work on prevention and health inequalities, health improvement programmes with local authorities. There is an awful lot going on to promote walking. Whether it is enough or not I do not know and I suspect that is one of the things you are going to comment on in your inquiry.

  670. Are you saying that this is something you have not thought about when you were making your own contribution to neighbourhood renewal?
  (Ms Wallace) We have not been asked to look at walking specifically. We have only been asked to look at transport specifically now, so we are doing the work now.

  671. Have you thought about this despite not being specifically asked to think about it?
  (Ms Wallace) We work on the things that we are asked to and we identify the barriers that come up in that.

  672. You are not forbidden to look at other things, are you?
  (Ms Wallace) Our time is tightly constrained by the projects we are asked to do by the PM.


  673. If we take the question of health, you are concerned about health amongst people who are socially excluded and yet we know that if people walk substantially more each day it has a dramatic improvement on their health, particularly in reducing heart disease. If you are looking at health in people who are socially excluded and tend to have a higher incidence of heart disease than most groups, ought it not to have been one of the things and is not prescribing walking cheaper than a lot of other treatments you might give for heart disease?
  (Ms Wallace) The areas the unit focuses on are ones that involve several departments and where work is not already going on. We are not asked to duplicate the entire work of the Department of Health or the entire work of the Department for Education.

  Chairman: This is just an example of where there is a cross-department, where there is a health element and where there is an environment element. Surely, it is one of the areas that you should have been looking at?

  Mr Donohoe: Just say yes.

Mrs Dunwoody

  674. There is a difficulty, is there not, because the government got a report from Lord Rodgers which talked in great detail about the interrelation of many strands of government policy. You presumably are in a position where, as a unit, you are going to look across. This is presumably your function. You are telling us, "I do not double guess the work of an individual department. That must mean, by implication, that my role is to look at the role of different departments, to add together where they overlap and exchange and where they are not doing the work." Alternatively, you are telling us that you are entirely project based, that you operate in a vacuum, that you do not look at what the departments are doing and you do something on your own. That cannot be true, can it?
  (Ms Wallace) There is a false dichotomy there. We are project based. We are asked to look at issues that are related to social exclusion and that have proved resistant either to the work of one department or to the work of several departments working together.

  675. In other words, you are looking right the way across the board at the work of various departments. You are not seeking to duplicate their individual work; you are seeking to work out where the gaps are and what has been done about them. The point that you are being asked is a very straightforward one. What consideration therefore do you give when you are beginning on a task like transport to the implications of something like walking on health and the environment?
  (Ms Wallace) We work on a project base on projects that are chosen by the Prime Minister following consultation with colleagues and they are publicly announced. It is a matter of public record what we are working on on any occasion. I think what several of you are saying is that walking is something that may have a bearing on neighbourhood renewal and on urban policy. Interestingly, I have appeared before this Committee before on that subject and I am not sure that it came up in our discussions then so perhaps we are both realising that it is something that needs to be built into that.

Mrs Ellman

  676. What we are saying is that walking is related to health. Health is related to social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal is trying to deal with all of those things. We are trying to find out if you have thought about this in making your comments on neighbourhood renewal. It appears not.
  (Ms Wallace) We looked at the issue of walking and whether people are able and feel comfortable to walk around neighbourhoods. That came up in all sorts of ways. There were all sorts of recommendations that had a bearing on this and removed some of the barriers. For example, one of the policy action teams on neighbourhood renewal promoted the idea of neighbourhood wardens to reduce crime so that people feel safer walking round these neighbourhoods. I do not know whether anyone actually identified that as a pro-walking policy, but it clearly is. I am not saying it has not been thought about; what I am saying is it has not been picked out in an individual way that we are now picking out transport.

Mr Brake

  677. In any of the other studies that you have already carried out, have you identified a linkage between social exclusion and the lack of access to a car?
  (Ms Wallace) We have identified the fact that, for a whole set of reasons one of which may be access to a car, people who are socially excluded find it difficult to get to services.

  678. You have not finished this study yet but can you foresee a situation where your study might recommend that access to a car is imperative for addressing social exclusion?
  (Ms Wallace) I cannot guess at what answers we are going to have. We are going to do the work first and come up with policy proposals.

  679. Let us assume that perhaps the report did want to recommend that. How do you work as a unit in terms of reconciling that sort of recommendation with perhaps other government policies in terms of reducing the amount of road traffic?
  (Ms Wallace) Any recommendations that the Social Exclusion Unit comes up with will be backed by evidence and will have some kind of effective business case attached to them. What problem do we think we are solving? Why do we think that problem matters? What do we think needs to be done? What are the pros and cons? That is the stage, several months down the line, when we need to look at the interactions between this and other government policies. What happens is we debate it with other departments and, if there is still disagreement, we debate it at ministerial level.

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