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

Examination of Witness (Questions 680 - 699)



  680. When you are making recommendations, do you weight things? In other words, if your report were to recommend that, to solve social exclusion, everyone should have access to a car, is that given a weighting compared to government policy on reducing road traffic?
  (Ms Wallace) What do you mean by "a weighting"?

  681. Do you have a way of prioritising? Would you, for instance, prioritise tackling social exclusion over and above other government targets such as reducing road traffic?
  (Ms Wallace) I think that is the sort of issue that you can only deal with when you have concrete proposals and you have identified the costs and the benefits of those. Then you seek to help ministers balance those objectives.

  682. Ministers would have to resolve that?
  (Ms Wallace) Yes, but we would give advice to them and other departments would put advice to their ministers too.

  683. There are 18 policy action teams that have been established with champion ministers set up for each. Do you think it would be helpful to help you to focus on the issue of walking had there been a minister with responsibility for championing walking?
  (Ms Wallace) The champion ministers were there to help guide the work of those policy action teams. If we had a policy action team on transport, it would have obviously had a champion minister attached to it. We are doing this work now and we will work with Lord Macdonald and other ministers on that so we will have a champion minister for the work that we do.

  684. A champion minister for transport rather than specifically for walking?
  (Ms Wallace) He will work with us on the report and will champion whatever we report.

Mr Benn

  685. On the last point, I had visions of John Cleese and the Ministry of Silly Walks. It would be a brave minister who took that on. Somebody might argue that the last thing people who are socially excluded need is to walk more because the evidence appears to suggest to us that they do rather a lot of that already because they do not have access to a car; and actually what they need is access to the sort of mobility that the better off take for granted. Would you agree?
  (Ms Wallace) I do not think it would be terribly logical to say that anyone should have no choice. I think you are unlikely to be recommending that the way to promote walking is to give nobody any choice about it. I think I would agree with you.

  686. You said in the note you submitted to us that when you did the work on the policy action team on jobs transport services was a barrier but you mentioned a reluctance to travel, in particular. Could you say a little bit more about that?
  (Ms Wallace) I think this is something where a number of people have pointed out that actually different people sometimes have different horizons as to how far away they are prepared to take a job. That may be related to habit or expectations; they do not know anyone else who works there or they do not know how to get there because public transport is not all that easy to understand or they cannot afford to get there. That is the issue that is being referred to there.

  687. How did you come to that conclusion in the course of that particular study? What sort of research work was undertaken?
  (Ms Wallace) That study was led by the Department of Education and Employment. I was not personally involved in it but I know that they based a lot of their work on interviews with people in areas that had very high areas of unemployment.

  688. Clearly, one of the problems in communities that are suffering stress and are in decline is the disappearance of local shopping facilities, which is something that you have identified in one of your other policy action team reports. What do you think should be done to try and reverse that trend? Is there a case for some sort of subsidy or incentive to encourage local shops to stay or to relocate to where they are currently not to be found?
  (Ms Wallace) One of the things that the government is hoping to pilot is the idea of a local retail strategy which could fit quite well with some of the institutions that are now developing such as local strategic partnerships or neighbourhood managers, where actually you could find a way of starting to get communities, residents, different local services, local government thinking what kind of shops do we need here and what are the barriers to shops opening up or shops staying. I do not know whether it is an issue of subsidy. Sometimes it is actually an issue of crime prevention. There are many different barriers. Maybe they can be considered too.

  689. In the area I was in last Friday, there is one remaining shop behind shutters. The residents are afraid to walk at night because they are likely to be run over by one of the joyriders who take great pleasure in terrorising the area, so I would concur with that view entirely. However, at the same time, we know that the local shops tend to charge higher prices than supermarkets. Therefore, those with the least mobility who find it difficult to travel the longer distances to take advantage of the lower prices in the supermarkets end up paying more for their food because they are socially excluded and are poor. What can be done about that because what is the point of having a local shop but having to pay more because you are poor?
  (Ms Wallace) There are some quite difficult trade-offs in this area and I think some of this comes back to the issue of choice. You would like people to have both choices. You would like people to have somewhere convenient nearby that was as cheap as possible, but you would also like them to have access to shops where they have more choice and cheaper goods. These are issues that people are going to have to grapple with locally. It is quite a difficult issue for government to tackle when it crosses a number of government departments, but the issue is rising in profile. There are some things that can help in the situation you describe. Another thing that was flagged up in that policy action team report was food co-ops, where residents get together and organise it themselves, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. That can be done quite successfully too.

  690. That takes quite a lot of community involvement and clearly one of the characteristics of these neighbourhoods is, in some areas, a low level of community involvement. Is this an issue for the regulation of supermarkets?
  (Ms Wallace) What are you suggesting?

  691. I am talking about food pricing and the link then to people's access to food in their local communities. Do you think we will have to do something about that to bring the lower prices that supermarkets are able to offer in their big stores to the kind of communities we are just discussing now?
  (Ms Wallace) That is not something that was recommended in the policy action team report, so I cannot really comment. This is a report that has already been completed and what people are focusing on are the things I have mentioned.

Mr Donohoe

  692. You talked earlier about choices. The socially deprived do not have choices, do they, in many instances and that is the problem?
  (Ms Wallace) Yes.

  693. The main distinction in that respect between those who have and those who have not is the lack of transport facilities. What I am finding difficult is that you have been in operation since December 1997 and we are now at the end of the first term of the Labour Government and your organisation has not addressed this, either by virtue of the Prime Minister suggesting it or some interest group deciding to take it on board. You have not thought transport is all that important and yet it has filled the pages of our newspapers for the last four years.
  (Ms Wallace) The government has done quite a lot on transport, including transport for people who are socially excluded, issues like concessionary bus fares and the like. We are not the only way of doing something on transport. We have been asked to focus on transport and social exclusion now.

  694. It would suggest that the departments that are mainly responsible have done enough. Is that what you are saying?
  (Ms Wallace) No, that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that they have done a lot but this is now one of four topics that we are being asked to focus on in our next period and we will be bringing the knowledge that we have accumulated through the work we have done, and some of the connections that we can help to build across departments.

  695. Given the experience of your operation over four years, in hindsight, do you not think you made a mistake by not having as part of all the inquiries that you have been involved in a section on transport issues as far as the deprivation issue is concerned, because it does not matter which of the issues you have mentioned that you have tackled; there is a transport implication now.
  (Ms Wallace) Transport has come up in most of our studies, as I mentioned in my opening statement.

  696. You have not made it a specific point, as a recommendation, back to the Prime Minister, have you? Anything you have done is in the report to date.
  (Ms Wallace) I do not think that is true. Transport has come up as a way of implementing some of the recommendations in particular reports.

  697. You can give the Committee examples after this session?
  (Ms Wallace) Easily, yes.

Mrs Dunwoody

  698. Could you also give us the terms of reference of your inquiry? It is very nice to see the finished reports and conclusions and to try to work out how they need to be implemented, but how do we know what your terms of reference are, because transport is rather a wide ranging subject.
  (Ms Wallace) Probably the best thing to do, which we will do anyway, is that when we have identified the specific questions that we are putting out to consultation we will show the Committee.


  699. You told us very firmly that you are going to do a fair amount of research in this area. Is there any possibility that any of that research will go to people who live in socially excluded neighbourhoods and communities?
  (Ms Wallace) By "going to" you mean "be done by"?

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