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

Examination of Witness (Questions 460 - 479)




  460. You should not mix with white van man. I thought you knew that, Professor.
  (Professor Begg) The Government are right to claim that we have got the best road accident record in Europe. That is an aggregate statistic, but once you probe at the statistics our children are still far too vulnerable. Children from poor backgrounds are eight times more likely to be involved in a road accident than children from affluent backgrounds—a real critical issue, this—and cycling and pedestrian fatalities are still way too high. London's record on cycling and pedestrian fatalities is appalling. It is worrying and I think the Mayor is right to focus on this as being a key challenge. There is a completely different culture and attitude to cycling in other countries. It is about making cyclists feel safer, it is giving them a lot of priority on the roads, but we run into some of the problems that Dr Pugh identified about the fact that it is not always popular to give a lot of cycle lanes and a lot of local authorities are loath to take space away from cars. Our conclusion is that we lag badly behind Europe in terms of the soft modes. These are the smaller schemes which we are convinced about but we still need to come up with some of the hard figures to back this up that would convince people that they offer excellent value for money. The Government are right to try and focus on congestion and less pollution and a more inclusive society, but they have missed out on some of the wider impacts of transport and the link between transport and health—how do we walk, how do we cycle, we are not taking enough exercise; the impact that transport has on the type of towns and villages that we live in; the urban regeneration agenda. There are a lot of parts of the jigsaw which the Government have really got to put together when they are assessing the 10 Year Plan and changing some of the objectives.

  461. I will not start on about staggered crossings and the impact on pedestrian injuries. The Commission for Integrated Transport in its press notice of 20 July 2000 welcomed the Government's 10 Year Plan as putting transport on the fast track to delivery of an integrated system across the UK. Obviously we will be celebrating the second anniversary of that press notice in July this year. Do you believe that the figures have been borne out by both the public investment in transport which in fact went down, I believe, over the first two years of the first Labour Government, and the fact that we are not going to see really large investment in transport from both the public and private sector—and I am not sure of the source of the figures; it is annex 2 or evidence in the memorandum that the Commission gave—until 2003/2004?
  (Professor Begg) I think the Prime Minister was right to concede that this Government between 1997 and 1999 did not prioritise transport in terms of legislation and resources. It sometimes pays just to be honest. The point I made earlier was that the 10 Year Plan does represent that step change in investment. The Government have a long way to go. A lot of the 10 Year Plan is back loaded. It has to be back loaded because it takes you so long to get a lot of these projects through the planning stage so it becomes pretty lumpy and a lot of it kicks in in 2007 and 2008. So far our margin shows that the Government are on course in terms of the amount of resources they are spending in this financial year on the 10 Year Plan.

  462. Do you believe that the Government will still be on course to attract the level of private investment that they hope to attract as part of the 10 Year Plan?
  (Professor Begg) I think it is far too early. There must be a question mark on railways about whether they are going to achieve the amount of money that they thought they would. That is why they recognise that they have had to increase the public sector contribution. The key question will be, if that continues in future years, the inability to lever in the private finance that Alastair Morton felt he could at the SRA, will this Government and future governments compensate by putting more taxpayers' money in?


  463. There is a problem with this, is there not? We can tell when the road schemes are coming up but there is an imbalance here. If the roads are built before the public transport schemes come on stream that is going to damage the achievement of plan, is it not?
  (Professor Begg) Absolutely, and I think the Government have to show flexibility here between the roads budget and the rail budget. If there are a number of rail schemes coming through the multi-modal studies, and there is not money to fund them, then DTLR are going to have to show some flexibility.

  464. So you are actually saying that you would expect this very roads-orientated Department to take some money out of its pool for roads and say, "We need it for public transport schemes"?
  (Professor Begg) I do not know what they will do. What I can say is that I would recommend them to do that.

  465. Do you find any kind of tension between the fact that you are both an independent adviser to the Government and also very involved in what happens at the Commission?
  (Professor Begg) Yes.

  466. How do you deal with that?
  (Professor Begg) It is really difficult when you are funded by Government and have a good secretariat but they are civil servants. It is difficult to be as independent as I think we should be.

  467. Has that affected your work and the conclusions?
  (Professor Begg) Increasingly less.

  468. Because what? You are getting more difficult?
  (Professor Begg) No. When you are in any job, the longer you are in it hopefully the more you learn, the more experienced you get. I think this is a key issue for Government. If they want to set up independent commissions to demonstrate to the public that what they are doing is being monitored, that they report it publicly, then they really have to give these commissions their head.

  469. The Prime Minister seems to be taking advice from The Lord Birt. Is that because you are so over-qualified he does not think you are capable of giving him the information he needs?
  (Professor Begg) Lord Birt is on a steep learning curve.

  Chairman: That has not been the first time in his life.

Andrew Bennett

  470. Are you talking to him?
  (Professor Begg) I have had one meeting with Lord Birt. After that meeting with him I realised there was a key difference between our respective roles because I was a bit concerned at first about duplication.


  471. Oh, do tell us.
  (Professor Begg) Anything we do we put in the public domain so I have to justify it.

  472. Ah, yes, and there is no evidence that The Lord Birt intends to do that, is there?
  (Professor Begg) I think the advice is going to be private to the Prime Minister. We have also got this role to try and educate and inform the public. That is why I was going on earlier on about this difference between reality and perception. That is part of what we try to do, and also this role to monitor the 10 Year Plan, which is not part of Lord Birt's remit.

  473. You know exactly what Lord Birt's remit is, do you?
  (Professor Begg) No.

  474. So he did not tell you that. He came to ask your advice but he did not tell you what on?
  (Professor Begg) Just that he is advising the Prime Minister.

  475. He did not give you a definition of "blue skies thinking"?
  (Professor Begg) No.

  Chairman: My goodness, Professor, you missed a turn there, did you not?

Andrew Bennett

  476. Urban regeneration: could that make any real contribution to the 10 Year Plan in reducing the amount of travelling that people need to do?
  (Professor Begg) Critical. I think we are still trying to piece together different Government White Papers and different advice that has gone to Government. The Rodgers Task Force on future urban police is still to be fed into what we are doing in transport.

  477. Do you think it is still relevant?
  (Professor Begg) Yes, I do.

  478. You do not think it has been filed in the round bin?
  (Professor Begg) Whether or not it has been filed I still think it is very relevant. All this is important because I think we focus too much on finance. Finances are critical but we sometimes focus too much on finance to the exclusion of other changes which are impacting so heavily on transport. One of them is location decisions. Density levels in Britain are just far too low, our failure to make sure that we have got vibrant cities where large numbers of people are living.

  479. Everybody is saying that to us. Is anyone doing anything practical about it?
  (Professor Begg) The Department are trying to do it but what I would judge them on is what changes they make to the 10 Year Plan. They have said that the 10 Year Plan is not cast in stone, the targets are not cast in stone, they will be changed, and I would hope to see more objectives coming through in the future rather than the ones that have already been set.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 March 2002