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

Examination of Witness (Questions 120 - 139)




  120. Would you like to give us a note on that? Go away, look at it and give us a note on how we got into that situation.
  (Mr Steer) I shall be very happy to do that.

Clive Efford

  121. You have appointed two people to take part in 23 studies and the Highways Agency are carrying out studies into the same schemes in parallel to you. If we are talking about a multi-modal approach, should there not be more co-ordination between the agencies involved?
  (Mr Steer) That may well be helpful and as we see the implementation of study outputs, that is going to be needed, yes.

  122. Does that mean that you are actively involved in discussions with other agencies to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach, that different priorities are not being followed?
  (Mr Steer) We are not yet at the stage where we have an agreed programme forward from these multi-modal studies. As and when we have one, then yes, we will be involved with the other agencies in working out the implementation approach.

Mrs Ellman

  123. May I take you back to the point you made on freight and regional issues? Will you be making a statement on the Central Railway Group proposals?
  (Mr Steer) That has not been decided. We have provided advice as asked to the minister at the end of September expressing our view on Central Railways.

  124. You have given advice.
  (Mr Steer) We have.

  125. But that has not been announced yet.
  (Mr Steer) Correct. We have not published it.

  126. When do you intend to publish it?
  (Mr Steer) We do not as yet have any decision on whether we shall publish it. It will await a ministerial decision and then a view will be taken.

  127. How important do you think it is that you consult with regional development agencies?
  (Mr Steer) It is hugely important. I and my team have a lot of meetings with the regional authorities, with the development agencies, the regional assemblies. It is one of the benefits of the multi-modal studies that there has been a focus for understanding the regional agenda, but we meet them on an ongoing basis in any event. We have just gone through a series of regional consultations which is just coming to an end which has lasted six weeks, day-long meetings with each of the English regions and Wales and Scotland.

  128. Do you think there is a problem when the decision-making process and the financial responsibilities are divorced from those making recommendations as in these studies?
  (Mr Steer) Yes, it can lead to a position where it is difficult to be confident that the recommendations have really been weighed up because you have people who are going to look for others for the funding. I do not think that strengthens the process, but that is, I am afraid, the nature of the system we have for the moment. There is no devolution of funding in any very large measure to regional levels. It is growing, but we are starting from a very modest base compared with the position in most European countries. It means that if management of studies is largely going to be a regional affair, as these multi-modal studies have been, you do have the divorce between responsibility for conclusions and responsibility for funding.

  129. Do you think that is a particular problem for the rail aspects?
  (Mr Steer) Yes, I do.

  130. More than the other parts.
  (Mr Steer) Not necessarily more than the others. Obviously local transport funding does not suffer from that problem, but the trunk road highways problem, the highway network, would have the same concern I should think.


  131. A lot of the studies will come up with very significant demands for an expansion of local rail services. If that is in their plan, will you be able to find the capacity and the case for the services to run?
  (Mr Steer) What we will do is sit down and try to work out whether that can be done.

  132. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that you can do it. Are you going to have enough money? Where would you find the subsidies you need to support local transport systems?
  (Mr Steer) We will probably not have the money is the straight answer.

  133. Have you done any estimate by looking at all the different rail elements of the different plans of the kind of amounts we are talking about?
  (Mr Steer) Yes, we have. The current estimate on capital costs, based on the figures the studies have come up with which, as we were discussing earlier we would guess would probably—

  134. We could argue about how they got to their figures, but we need to have some idea how you are proceeding.
  (Mr Steer) The capital element is over £7 billion and there is an ongoing subsidy element -which is very poorly estimated at this stage-but certainly runs into hundreds of millions of pounds per annum.

  135. They are very considerable amounts of money. In your own estimate for the ten-year plan, you did not apparently include inflation in the graphs you supplied us with. Is that so? Perhaps you would look at that.
  (Mr Steer) I will certainly look at it.

  136. This Committee would benefit if you could give us a very short note expanding on your evidence. It would be helpful for us to know in simple terms whether, given the difficulties that both the Strategic Rail Authority suffered and Railtrack suffered because of other elements arising during the time the studies were being prepared, you are absolutely certain that you have looked carefully at all of the rail elements of the strategic plans, that you are able to identify for us where the difficulties arise, specifically in revenue and that you are also very clear that you have discussed with the regions, with the people preparing the studies, what your plans are for the development of the railway system.
  (Mr Steer) I should be very happy to do that and indeed answer any questions now on what we have concluded in relation to this.

  137. Have you made it clear to the people with whom you were working at each point where the differences arose between what they were proposing and what you were proposing?
  (Mr Steer) We have made very clear in those instances where we think that the study team is perhaps being over ambitious in respect of budget and so forth; we have made that known.

  138. So there is no reason to suppose that they did not have that information when they prepared their final plan.
  (Mr Steer) Yes; but again, these projects have taken time and during the currency of these projects some things have changed. I mentioned capacity utilisation as an example. It is not necessarily such bad news because in some respects this opens up opportunities to deliver study outputs which were not there and not apparent to the study teams at the time.

  139. You were fairly damning about these reports, were you not? We questioned your predecessors as witnesses on precisely what you had said and you were pretty dismissive of these plans.

   (Mr Steer) What we were saying and what I have said is that we have to draw a distinction between the specific schemes, which when subject to further scrutiny may not turn out to be such a hot idea and the role and clarity on objectives for rail that the studies have identified. The former is a weak area in our view. Unless there is a great deal more funding, prioritised towards the study outputs, we are not going to see those schemes implemented in the way in which they have been identified in the studies.

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