Examination of Witness (Questions 680
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
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
(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.
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
(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.
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
(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
(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
(Ms Wallace) Easily, yes.
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
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