Examination of Witness (Questions 460
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
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 backgroundsa real
critical issue, thisand 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 healthhow 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 sectorand I am not sure
of the source of the figures; it is annex 2 or evidence in the
memorandum that the Commission gaveuntil 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
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
(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
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
(Professor Begg) Lord Birt is on a steep learning
Chairman: That has not been the first time in
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
475. He did not give you a definition of "blue
(Professor Begg) No.
Chairman: My goodness, Professor, you missed
a turn there, did you not?
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
477. Do you think it is still relevant?
(Professor Begg) Yes, I do.
478. You do not think it has been filed in the
(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.