Examination of Witness (Questions 424
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
424. Good afternoon to you, and welcome. I wonder
if I could ask you, Professor, to identify yourself for the record.
(Professor Begg) David Begg, Commission for Integrated
425. Do you have anything you would like to
say to us before you begin to reply to our questions?
(Professor Begg) Only that my mother asked me to pass
on her kind regards to you.
426. That is probably the most important piece
of work that you will do today and I trust that you will return
my warmest greetings to her. You have said that "with a fair
wind" you think we are going to have three road user charging
and one workplace parking levy scheme implemented during the Plan
instead of 20. What are the implications of this for the Plan?
(Professor Begg) We have had the economic consultants
NERA work with us on this and they have advised us that up to
20-25 per cent of the Government's congestion reduction target
is at risk. It is the difference between the Government achieving
their target for six per cent reduction in congestion by 2010
or a slight increase in congestion.
427. You will realise that the targets are a
matter of considerable concern to us. You seem to think that the
urban charging schemes are going to contribute three times the
amount of congestion reduction that the Department does.
(Professor Begg) We do. I think you should be aware
of the different assumptions that are made and why the Department
have come to very different conclusions from the ones that we
have come to. The Department model does not include London and
London is going to have a significant impact on the overall congestion
reduction target. The Department's model also does not look at
the side effects of congestion charging and they are just as important
as the direct effects. I will give you an example. If a city were
to introduce congestion charging it would lead to a modal shift
towards bus transport and that would make bus transport more efficient
and that would maybe push down fares and increase services and
that would have an impact on helping to reduce traffic and congestion
as well. The other point I would make in all of this is that there
is now a consensus developing that while it was brave of the Government
to set a congestion reduction target not many countries have gone
that far yet. I do not think anyone would pretend that it is perfect
by any means and I think the concern most people have is that
even if the Government achieve their six per cent reduction in
congestion by 2010 no-one is confident that people travelling
on the roads will actually feel that reduction.
428. Professor Begg, your Commission is charged
with monitoring progress towards the 10 Year Plan. I would like
to ask you some questions about how you intend to monitor that.
I realise we are two years into the Plan. Have you, for example,
considered setting any targets or milestones so that we can measure
the progress towards the objectives of the 10 Year Plan?
(Professor Begg) It is two years since they announced
it, but it only kicked in in April 2001, so the first anniversary
is going to be this April. That is when we are intending to publish
our report. What we have tried to do is to measure inputs, outputs
and outcomes. We can start to get a feel for what is happening
in inputs in terms of the money that is going into the 10 Year
Plan. We can all monitor that and I would be interested to see
what your report says on that. We know that local authorities,
for example, have big increases in money, 68 per cent more in
capital issued, so we can monitor that. We can monitor what local
authorities are doing with that money. We have some concerns that
there seems to be a lot more money feeding through to local authorities
but in a lot of instances we are not seeing evidence that that
has been spent in the areas where it should be spent. May I give
one example: road maintenance. There is a lot of money going in
but there is not a lot of evidence yet that it is feeding through
to better road maintenance. We are trying to ask why is that?
429. You have identified one area because it
seems to us that the 10 Year Plan is predicated to a large degree
on local authorities' local transport plans to implement that.
In terms of the additional revenue that no doubt is welcome, many
local authorities will argue that this is going to allow them
to catch up on what they have not been doing before rather than
to implement the Plan. When you publish your report in April will
it be identifying such issues and will you be pointing towards
what Government should do if they are going to meet their objectives?
(Professor Begg) It is really important that we do
that. If we are going to add any value to this process it is not
enough for us just to produce some information on where the Government
and the local authorities are not delivering. We have to come
up with some really strong recommendations on what we can do to
put things back together. We will be coming forward with recommendations
on how we think local authorities can improve delivery and what
the Government needs to do to work with them.
430. You did say "strong recommendations"
in your report to put things back together. Am I reasonable to
conclude that already the evidence is that things do need to be
put back together?
(Professor Begg) The older I get the more I realise
that things are not black and white in life and the Government
have always got a tendency to over-estimate a new strategy document
and the Opposition rubbish it too much, and it is always somewhere
in between. I take the view that the Government want this Plan
to be monitored because they want to change it, they want to adapt
that plan to changing circumstances. We already know that in the
last year there are a number of reasons why the Government have
to re-visit the Plan and make some changes to it.
431. Will your report be considering setting
targets if the Plan is to be achieved?
(Professor Begg) Yes.
432. In your assessment of what is happening,
Professor Begg, will you be liaising with regional authorities,
regional development agencies and the regional assemblies as part
of your assessment of what has happened?
(Professor Begg) Yes, we will. What we have started
to identify is that the barriers to delivery are not just about
are there enough resources going in, financial and physical. It
is also about whether the institutional structure of government
is right in Britain. We have real concerns about that. One of
the sharp lessons we learned when we compared our transport system
with other European countries was that it was not just that for
a generation we have been investing a lot less; it was because
we did not have the strong regional government, for example, that
the Germans have in the lander system. An awful lot of the delivery
of this is down to local authorities and local authorities are
all too often too small to deal with some of the big strategic
planning and transportation issues. The way round that is for
them to form partnerships on congestion charging, to take one
example, but partnerships are not always that strong in that they
do not have a legal status.
433. On the plans for bus use is the target
of 10 per cent of bus patronage outside London too little?
(Professor Begg) Yes.
434. Is it attainable?
(Professor Begg) The evidence that we have gathered
is that this ten per cent target for England is far too low. We
think it should be at least 20 per cent on the basis that the
growth in bus patronage in London is pretty exceptional really
but we have grave concerns about what has happened in some of
the shire counties. We think the Government, when they are looking
at changing the 10 Year Plan and making amendments to it, should
look at regional targets for bus patronage and not just a national
one for England.
435. Do you think local authorities have enough
revenue to fund non-profitable routes?
(Professor Begg) No, I think there is a big problem
developing here. I would be surprised if the Government did not
try and allocate more money to local authorities to try and deal
with the increase in costs of tender services and to plug gaps
in the market. The difficulty is, can they ensure that local authorities
will spend it on that? If you give more revenue to local authorities
you can hint that you want it to be spent on this but at the end
of the day there is local democracy and it is up to local politicians
to determine how to spend it. I know there are problems in terms
of more money needed for supported services, and there is a debate
raging which I know you are all engaged in on whether there should
be quality partnerships or contracts and I think these are important
issues. However, the key issue is that if the Government wants
to see pretty substantial growth in bus patronage beyond the ten
per cent target that is set they have got to ask themselves a
critical question. If they do not want to throw a lot more taxpayers'
money at buses the only way they are going to do it is to encourage
local authorities to introduce more car restraint, higher parking
charges, fewer car parking spaces in city centres and a lot more
bus priority than is coming in. All the evidence shows that Oxford,
Cambridge, Brighton, Edinburgh show phenomenal growth in bus patronage
because there are really strong car restraint measures and good
bus priority. In parts of the country that are showing really
sluggish growth and a decline in patronage often you will find
that there is very little car restraint. To me there is a crunch
issue here for Government: how badly do they want a growth in
bus patronage and are they prepared to send out the right signals?
One way to achieve that is to build on these measures.
436. If the costs of motoring in real terms
decreased significantly in the way that is suggested in the Plan
and the charging congestion schemes do not come into play as anticipated,
what impact is that going to have?
(Professor Begg) It means we are going to have more
traffic and more congestion.
437. How much? Have you got any measure?
(Professor Begg) If you look, for example, at the
20 per cent fall in motoring costs, and I do not think the Government
say that that is the forecast or the target; I think they said
"on current trends this is the way things are going",
then we are talking about a growth in traffic over the next decade
of 17 per cent. If the Government decide they want to keep motoring
costs constant then the growth in traffic is only 13 per cent,
so it does have a significant effect. Our concern is, and I know
it is a concern of this Committee, is the relative price of public
transport and private transport. The problem in Britain is that
we just look at private transport in a vacuum. The public's perception
is that we have got the highest road taxation in Europe. We have
not. We are much nearer the middle of the league table, but that
perception has started to influence decisions that are made by
local and central government on motoring taxes and motoring charges.
What gives us great concern is that if you were a betting person
you would put some money on the cost of motoring falling in Britain
over the next decade but you would not put a lot of money on public
transport fares falling.
438. But can any government afford to ignore
(Professor Begg) No, I think the politician who ignores
public perception is like a businessman who does not want to make
money. I think they do. My worry is that politicians' views on
public perception are different from reality.
Chairman: Now you are on dangerous ground.
Mrs Ellman: Whose reality is it?
439. Think seriously about what you are saying
(Professor Begg) I can give you an example on that.
The vast majority of the British public think that we have got
the highest road taxation in Europe. We have not. If you look
at the attitude on speed cameras, two-thirds of motorists welcome
speed cameras and think they are really important. The perception
that is generated sometimes by hostile media coverage gives a
very different view. That is one of the reasons why we do not
always just try and monitor what public opinion is. We try and
monitor the difference between reality and perception, if that