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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 98) On Maintenance of Roads Grant 2002-03

Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 23 April 2002

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 98) (HC 727) on Maintenance of Roads Grant 2002–03

4.31 pm

The Chairman: I apologise for the slight delay in starting.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): On a point of order, Mr. Benton. First, I apologise to you that I am here and not my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss). Therefore, I am not a member of the Committee, and as I understand it from the Clerk, I will not be able to vote, but I am able to speak.

Secondly, I refer the Committee to the order that we are considering. I refer the Committee to the reference to the A6 on page 6. It is not specified to which section of the A6 the order refers. Whereas for other roads—for example, the Oxfordshire county council A423/A361 north of Banbury, mentioned on page 7—the precise section is specified. It occurs to me that the Committee cannot properly consider the order if the roads concerned are not precisely described. I therefore ask the Minister to clarify the matter. If the instrument is incomplete, the Committee should adjourn until we have proper information on the matter.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Further to that point of order, Mr. Benton. I served as a Whip on a large number of statutory instruments. In fact, I think that I have served on more than a quarter of the statutory instruments that have come through during the past six months. There seems to be a repetitive pattern. In the last case, there was a reference to documents being available in the Library that were not. In a case before that, there was a similar story. If we are going to do our job on statutory instruments, we have to have the information.

The Chairman: That is not a point of order for the Chair. To return to the original point of order, it would be appropriate if the Minister commented.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson): Further to that point of order, Mr. Benton. I am pleased to offer a little clarification to the Committee, if that would be helpful, before we get under way. Largely, where there is no extra description in the order of the part of the road, it is the whole of that road contained in that area. In some cases there may be small or residuary parts of the road that are not in the detrunking order. All those descriptions have been agreed with the local authorities concerned. Cheshire, on page 8 in table 2, and Hertfordshire, on page 9, wanted further, precise clarification on the pieces of road in question. That is why those have been included. In the other cases, it is the whole of that part

Column Number: 2

of the road, or the county councils were content with the description in the order. Those have been agreed with the county councils.

I would say to the hon. Member for Canterbury that it is always good in Committees to listen to the response before one dives in, and not to jump the gun. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, an experienced Member, will take note of that.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Further to that point of order, Mr. Benton. You will have noted that the Minister twice used the word ''largely.'' This is a serious Committee discussing a serious matter that has budgetary implications for each local authority. For all I know, individual Members may have come here to raise specific matters on behalf of their local authorities. How can we do that if the description is incomplete? We do not know whether the definition is ''largely'' or ''completely'' for each individual road. Therefore, I ask again that the Committee be adjourned until we have the proper information.

The Chairman: I have reached the firm opinion that it would not be appropriate to adjourn the Committee. I have taken on board the comments following the point of order but believe that, during the course of the debate, there will be ample opportunity for hon. Members to establish which part of a road we are discussing. Under the circumstances, I am ruling that it is in order to proceed.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): On a point of order, Mr. Benton. On a different and rather more prosaic matter, would it be in order for me to remove my jacket?

The Chairman: Jackets may be removed and no one will be upset.

4.35 pm

Mr. Jamieson: I am very pleased, Mr. Benton, to serve on this Committee under your careful gaze yet again. I am absolutely certain that you will put us right if we are out of order.

I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 98) (HC 727) on Maintenance of Roads Grant 2002–03.

The report will enable the payment of grants to local authorities for the extra costs that they will incur for routine maintenance of roads in 2002–03 under our programme for transferring non-core trunk roads to local highway authorities. In all, we are planning to detrunk some 1,300 km of non-core trunk road in 2002–03. Some 440 km were transferred in 2001–02.

Mr. Don Foster: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson: I am in your hands, Mr. Benton. Is it usual for interventions to be taken during the opening speech?

The Chairman: It is in order to give way.

Mr. Foster: I have read very carefully the speech given a year ago by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the hon. member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Alan Whitehead). At that time the Government were planning to detrunk 500 km of non-core trunk road

Column Number: 3

in 2001–02. The figure that the Minister gave falls considerably short. Can he explain the difference between the two figures?

Mr. Jamieson: Yes. All detrunking orders are subject to discussions and negotiations with local authorities. The 60 km that appear to be missing may not have been subject to agreements in time to go into that order, but they will be in the order that we are considering today. I hope that that clarifies the matter for the hon. Gentleman.

Annexe B to the report gives details of the maximum amounts of grant that may be paid to each authority for each route in their area that was detrunked in 2001–02 or is due to be detrunked in 2002–03. Authorities will receive the amount of grant shown in table 1 for roads that were detrunked in 2001–02. For roads detrunked in 2002–03, the amount of grant shown in table 2 will be calculated on a daily basis prorated to the number of days that remain in the financial year in which the route is transferred to the authority's control as a result of the coming into force of a detrunking order. I hope that that is crystal clear to members of the Committee.

Mr. Foster: It is an improvement on last year.

Mr. Jamieson: I am pleased to hear that. I am also pleased that the hon. Gentleman is following my comments. If he wants to intervene for clarification, I will be more than pleased to provide explanations.

Annexe C to the report sets out the conditions attaching to the grants. The grant may only be used for the routine maintenance of roads. However, we are not requiring that it should be used exclusively on the detrunked routes specified in the report. That gives authorities a degree of flexibility and ensures from the outset that the detrunked routes will be managed as part of the wider local road network.

We identified the policy that lies behind the need for those grants in our integrated transport White Paper, ''A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone'' published in July 1998. The policy concerns a core network of nationally important strategic routes in England that should remain a direct responsibility of central Government. That core network includes all of the motorway network, apart from some small sections. It also includes strategic all-purpose routes such as the A1. [Interruption.] There is a slight echo. We are in such a large Room today and so few Opposition Members are here that we are getting reverberations. Factors taken into account in identifying that core network were whether routes link main centres of population, give access to major ports, airports and rail terminals, give access to peripheral regions, provide key cross-border routes to Scotland and Wales or are classified as part of the trans-Europe road network.

The remaining, non-core routes were seen as serving mainly local and regional traffic. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. There is a lot of background noise. I call the Committee to order.

Column Number: 4

Mr. Jamieson: Thank you, Mr. Benton. It was concluded that those non-core routes would be more appropriately managed by local highway authorities to enable decisions about them to be taken locally and to be better integrated with local transport and land-use planning issues. It was therefore proposed to transfer those non-core routes to the local highway authorities to ensure that decisions about their management could be taken locally, rather than centrally by the Government.

In taking forward that proposal for detrunking non-core routes, we have consulted with local authorities and the Local Government Association. In particular, we consulted on the definition of the core network, which was confirmed in April 1999. In total, we intend to detrunk some 3,100 km, or 30 per cent., of the 10,500 km motorway and trunk road network that existed in April 1999.

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid) announced to the House the outcome of the roads review at the end of July 1998, we made it clear that detrunking would be accompanied by a fair transfer of resources to local highway authorities taking over non-core routes. How to achieve that objective was the subject of detailed discussions and negotiations with the LGA.

Against the background of our current review of the local government finance system and the desire to leave the standard spending assessment formulae unchanged, including the highways maintenance SSA formula, it was agreed with the LGA that the most effective way to ensure receiving authorities were provided with the resources for the routine maintenance of detrunked routes in the interim would be by means of special grants. Supplementary credit approvals will be issued to authorities in respect of capital expenditure on detrunked routes. The method used for calculating the amounts of special grant is explained in paragraph 1 of annexe B to the report.

Since the core trunk road network was confirmed, the Highways Agency has been involved in detailed negotiations with the local authorities that will take on the responsibility for the detrunked roads. The programme is being phased to tie in with the renewal of the Highways Agency's existing maintenance contracts for the motorway and trunk road network as much as is possible. That will allow the new contracts to be structured to focus on the delivery of services on the core network and to deliver those services in the most cost-effective manner.

The roads that we will be transferring have been properly maintained by the Highways Agency and are in good condition. In the long term, we have committed to spend £31 billion on local road maintenance under our 10-year plan. That will make up for the under-investment under the previous Government and ensure all local roads are brought up to a good standard of maintenance.

4.44 pm

 
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