Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720 - 739)



  720. As I said earlier, over a quarter of journeys are taken on foot, yet we are told you only have a couple of civil servants whose job is devoted to promoting walking.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I do not, actually. We have 11, roughly speaking, civil servants who are working on a combination of walking and cycling. They deploy themselves flexibly. This is not how they get to work, this is how they—


  721. What sort of percentage is that out of your total staff?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) A very small number because it is about 11 out of 3,400 or 3,500. If we thought that there was some compelling need to put additional resource into that area, I can assure the Committee that we could do that. We are not in a position where we do not have the administrative resources.

  722. You could double it quite easily, could you not?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I can add to people in the area probably a lot easier than I can meet the cycling target, Chairman. I know the Committee are, quite rightly, concerned about this, and I have talked to the people who are in charge of this area and I have asked them whether, if we gave them more resource, we would produce some dramatic effect. Their judgment—and this is, after all, a free hit for them, a Permanent Secretary does not often ask people "Would you like more people?"—was that this was not an issue about administrative resources inside the department. If you think about the problem, it is a problem which is mainly about local government resources, about professional expertise, etc. We are looking at those areas as well, it is not a question of whether we have 11 civil servants. If I could magic the problem, if I could double cycling by putting 22 on the problem I would put 22 civil servants on the problem.

Ms King

  723. Has the Commission for Integrated Transport advised that the national annual vehicle mileage is not a suitable indicator? If so, why was it used as a headline indicator in the annual report?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Can I send you an answer to that?

Mr Wiggin

  724. Why are the monitoring requirements for local transport plans more comprehensive and wide-ranging than for Public Service Agreements, which you include in your annual report?
  (Mr Byers) I think they are trying to achieve two separate things. The Public Service Agreement is an agreement between ourselves and the Treasury—so it is an internal government agreement, if you like—the Local Transport Plans are an agreement arrived at in detail because of submissions made in detail by the local authority to achieve particular objectives in that local community. That is what we are funding. So the Public Service Agreements are a broad outline (and we have just been discussing some of them) without going into detail about how, in process terms, it is going to be achieved. Local Transport Plans are actually the opposite; they are very detailed and that is why we need more monitoring opportunities.

Dr Pugh

  725. Research commissioned by the DETR at the University of Leeds seemed to indicate that if we are going to do anything serious about congestion and environmental damage transport charges need to increase. What contribution do you think fuel tax will make in order to address the issues of environmental damage and congestion?
  (Mr Byers) On fuel tax, you have got to get to a situation where you have a level of tax which is acceptable to the travelling public. What we saw 18 months ago was people saying that the level of taxation had got high enough, and they expressed that very clearly.

Mrs Dunwoody

  726. So if we get a cogent response in anything, whether it is health or education, or transport, we can immediately produce a result in the Treasury? That is an interesting theory.
  (Mr Byers) As you know, Mrs Dunwoody, there was not an immediate response from the Treasury.

  Chairman: Just a delayed one.

Mrs Dunwoody

  727. It took them ten days to think of something, and then they read our report.
  (Mr Byers) I am sure they read the report before the ten days, Mrs Dunwoody. The important thing, in any democracy, is that governments will listen to the views being expressed by individuals. It was looked at as part of the Budget process, and the Chancellor made announcements in the Pre-Budget Report and, I think, since then we have now got a level that people broadly find far more acceptable.

Dr Pugh

  728. It is the Chancellor who decides what is the reasonable level for taxation on fuel. To that extent your transport policy is a prisoner of whatever the Chancellor decides.
  (Mr Byers) The Chancellor is responsible for taxation matters.

  729. Do you support the harmonisation of fuel tax across Europe for commercial road users? It is the European Transport White Paper.
  (Mr Byers) My own view is that on matters like this, matters of taxation should be decided by the UK Chancellor in his Budget Report to the House of Commons.


  730. If we are going to have a free market, is it logical for transport costs to be different in different parts of the European Union?
  (Mr Byers) It is the nature of the European Union. I think there are great dangers with the argument that harmonisation of taxes will make a single market. The way in which we can achieve a single market is if markets are actually opened up. If the French opened up their electricity market then we might have a single market in electricity in Europe. That is how we get a single market, not by harmonisation of taxes.

  731. If we wanted a single market in tomatoes it does not make a difference as to how much it costs to move tomatoes around Europe.
  (Mr Byers) But the important thing is that tomatoes can be traded freely in every country in Europe, so you have a genuine single market.

  732. But then you have a tax in some countries because it is more expensive to move them in those countries.
  (Mr Byers) What I am saying is there will be issues to be determined by national governments about levels of taxation, but the challenge for the European Union is to have a genuine access to markets throughout Europe.

Christine Russell

  733. You recently issued a consultation paper on how to streamline the procedures for dealing with abandoned vehicles. What measures, if any, are you proposing to take to stop the vehicles being abandoned in the first place? The consultation paper does not address that.
  (Mr Byers) No, although we did say something about that particular aspect at the time. The consultation finishes at the end of this month and we hope to have something by the end of March. On the specific point, the issue is unlicensed cars, and we calculate there are probably about a million unlicensed cars in the United Kingdom.

Mr Wiggin

  734. May they be uninsured rather than unlicensed?
  (Mr Byers) I am sorry, uninsured.


  735. You are suggesting a million, the figure we had when we did an inquiry into this was up to two million.
  (Mr Byers) Anyway, it is far too many. A million is a pretty extensive sum. I need to check on whether we think there may be a million unlicensed, actually. That may be the figure. Let me check on unlicensed or uninsured. The point is we have to get to a situation where, if you like, the owner takes fiscal responsibility for the car. At the moment, there is a situation—and we are improving the situation at the DVLA to be able to do this—to make sure that there is a process of monitoring, so we have registration on a rolling basis, so there is a far greater control and knowledge over who actually has ownership of a particular vehicle.

Christine Russell

  736. Are any dialogues going on between your department, the Home Office and, maybe, even the Lord Chancellor's Department to sort out this issue, whether it is one million or up to two million, of vehicles on the roads where the driver has no insurance?
  (Mr Byers) It is an area where a lot of work is going on involving ourselves and others.

  737. Who is taking the lead on that?
  (Mr Byers) It is an enforcement matter, so the Home Office, in terms of enforcing the legislation, is clearly in the lead and we need to make sure that the police authorities treat it as a priority. The reason why it has come forward as a big issue is because the value of cars as scrap has just disappeared.

Mrs Dunwoody

  738. Have you looked at whether DVLA have had sufficient capacity in their computer system to actually operate these new controls?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes. The answer to that is that they would do. Obviously there are resource issues and we have to put more money into it, but it is not unfeasible for them to do it.

  739. Anybody can do it, given the equipment and given the numbers of civil servants that they need to operate the system. What I am asking is are you satisfied they can at the moment? Are you satisfied they will have enough money available to them in the coming year? What are you saying to the Home Office about enforcement?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) On resources, if you look at the way in which provision is made for DVLA and you look at the number of civil servants in DVLA, you can see that it fluctuates quite markedly—

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