Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
BENDER CB, MR
100. Do you think it is a good policy to require
local authorities to develop local air quality action plans given
that at paragraph 4.7 on page 36 it says that most local authorities
believe they have inadequate expertise?
(Mr Bender) It is difficult if it is something that
is done centrally. Part of the object of the exercise is to help
them develop the expertise to tackle what are, in most cases,
essentially local transport issues that are giving rise to these
101. What you are saying, therefore, is that
you are expecting local authorities to acquire this level of expertise?
(Mr Bender) Yes and we believe that over the last
two or three years there has been significant progress in that
102. This Report is not really about air pollution.
It is an example in terms of policy to see how effective the policy
is. What are the cost implications to local authorities of acquiring
that level of expertise?
(Mr Bender) I find that a very hard question to answer.
The policy issue underpinning this is that there is damage to
health as a result of the air quality and, as we were discussing
earlier, there are therefore certain policy measures and actions
which can be taken to offset those.
103. One of the key policy measures is local
authority action plans and you have no idea what the cost implications
to local authorities are of introducing these. That seems to me
pathetic in terms of integrity of policy development. Mr Bender,
it is you, with respect, who should know that. You are Permanent
Secretary of a Department developing a policy requiring all local
authorities to develop air quality action plans. They have limited
expertise and you are saying that they are expected to acquire
it over time with your help and you have not got any idea of the
(Mr Williams) We do not know what the cost implications
are for each local plan because we do not know what the plans
104. I am just talking about the acquiring of
the expertise so that they are no longer in the words of this
Report "inadequate" so they become adequate. The cost
implications for local authorities in acquiring new civil servants,
new experts in order to be adequate in producing local air quality
(Mr Williams) I am not sure I can answer that.
105. Is that not an indictment of the British
Civil Service and the way we conduct policy? You have no idea
of the cost implications of acquiring the expertise to implement
a key strategy on air quality. I am staggered.
(Mr Bender) I am happy to try and provide the Committee
with a note on this issue. It is certainly not something I have
come briefed for. I will see what we can provide by way of a note.
106. That is very helpful. Thank you very much.
This is a linked question. Why are up to one-third of local authority
air quality assessments unacceptable?
(Mr Williams) That, I guess, to some extent reflects
the learning process that local authorities and ourselves are
going through in this process. I think what I would say is that
the term "unacceptable" applies to the first cut as
a dialogue. The local authority responds with its assessment,
we, with our advisers, read it, assess it and get back into a
dialogue with local authorities. You have to remember that this
is the first time this sort of exercise has been done in the UK
so there is a learning process on both sides. This is very much
the first phase of assessment. When they finish they are all acceptable,
107. Paragraph 4.6 in the Report gives an example
of the kind of local authority action that might happenthe
adoption of Low Emission Zones or fixed penalty fines, for example.
Have those Regulations given local authorities the power to fix
fixed penalty fines? Have they been drafted yet and, if they have,
what is the level of fine that we are looking at?
(Mr Bender) We will cover that in the note.
108. A note would be very helpful. This Report
is about policy on air quality and pollution.
(Mr Bender) Yes.
109. This is not the Environment Select Committee,
this is the Public Accounts Committee and we are looking at the
integrity and efficacy of policy making of the British Civil Service.
Here we have a policy that is going to lead to fixed penalty fines
but you have no idea why these regulations have to be drafted
or, indeed, whether they have been drafted.
(Mr Bender) I have not come able to answer that question.
I will provide a note.
110. You do not know whether they have been
(Mr Furness) If I am allowed to speak. There was a
consultation on a set of draft regulations in October and the
regulations are due to be laid in the next couple of months.
111. Thank you. Some local authoritiesI
could cite the City of London as one example, or London generallyseem
to believe that closing roads is a useful way of reducing pollution.
You could argue that also results in more congestion on other
roads and greater pollution. Mr Bender, do you believe that closing
roads is an answer to inner city pollution or do you believe that
helping traffic flows with more roads open is the answer?
(Mr Bender) It may be a mixture. There is a mixture
of getting more people on to public transport and if there is
a particularly localised issue then closing a road there may be
the answer. That is why these things are better handled at a local
level rather than a national level.
112. But in general terms what will happen to
the traffic that would have travelled on that road that has now
been closed? Will it just disappear or will it go on to other
(Mr Bender) That is for the local authority to work
out as part of the traffic management scheme. That is why they
would not want to look at it totally in isolation from the sort
of question you are raising.
113. So there will be no guidelines coming from
your Department suggesting whether or not they should or should
not close roads, no guidelines at all will come out of your Department
on that issue?
(Mr Williams) Not in that prescriptive sense because
we leave the best solutions to the local authorities determined
by local circumstances. What we would do in our guidance, and
have done, is to make sure that they address precisely that issue,
that if they squeeze the balloon in one area then it does not
burst out in another and they look at it as a whole. They need
to look at the whole traffic management plan if that is what they
have in mind to make sure that they do not make problems for themselves
114. Do you think that the road closures in
London that have been happening over the last five or six years
have helped deal with congestion or hindered it? Or do you have
(Mr Bender) I do not have any idea.
115. Another policy where we have no idea how
it is affecting people's daily lives. I am flabbergasted by policy
development. Mr Bender, you used the number of early deaths brought
forward of 24,000 or so as a key reason in answer to my colleague,
Mr Osborne. Can you define "deaths brought forward"?
(Mr Bender) It covers a range of things. It may be
an 80 year old brought forward by one day up to someone whose
death would be in five years' time brought forward by one day
through to an 80 year old dying that day. It covers the range
of issues, hence Mr Williams' earlier answer about the range of
costs associated with it.
116. Figure ten on page 23, note three, says:
"It is not known to what degree deaths are brought forward.
From these acute effects, it is more likely to be by days or weeks
rather than months or years." Is that statement true?
(Mr Williams) Yes. I think I said earlier that there
is still a lot of active research going on to try and improve
knowledge on that but that is the best estimate at present, yes.
117. So all these measures, the £1 billion
cost which Mr Osborne extracted from you, are all about 24,000
deaths brought forward by a matter of days or weeks? Is that what
we are talking about, all this air pollution is preventing people
from dying by a few weeks or days earlier than they would otherwise
(Mr Williams) Or possibly longer. On an individual
basis like that it may not sound a great deal but when you aggregate
it over the whole population then it begins to be a public health
118. I have to pay significantly more tax to
fund the £1 billion simply to save a few weeks of my life,
so I have to reduce the number of holidays I have, the number
of new shoes, clothes, cinema trips, quality of food, simply to
save myself a few weeks at the end of the day, is that correct?
(Mr Bender) As Mr Williams said earlier, the cost
benefit analysis attempts to put a figure on the value people
put on reducing risk of death. It is a very uncertain science.
119. That is a value.
(Mr Bender) As we have heard in the questioning today
different Members of the Committee have different views about
the importance they attach to the costs and benefits of that.
2 Ev 17, Appendix 1. Back
Ev 17, Appendix 1. Back