Examination of Witness (Questions 480
WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2002
480. Like what?
(Professor Begg) For example, much more focus on accessibility
rather than mobility. The 10 Year Plan is quite good at trying
to keep Britain mobile. That is okay if you have a car or you
can afford to travel by train, but if your local shop is closing
because there is a big out of town shopping centre being built,
then that just marginalises people in society. We would like to
see a lot more focus on accessibility targets. I know we need
to do a lot on urban regeneration. What we need to come out with
is some sort of measure, how are we measuring what the Government
are doing on urban regeneration. Do we look at the turnround in
businesses and retail trade in town centres as the measure of
urban regeneration and vitality?
481. You have just about hinted that there is
this problem about most of the money has been spent in the 10
Year Plan on the well off, the people who travel long distances,
rather than the people who stay, say, in Denton and hardly ever
move out of Denton. Ought the balance of investment be skewed
more to the least well off people who do not have cars?
(Professor Begg) The Commission's view on that is
yes, we need to find out who is doing that.
482. How can we do it?
(Professor Begg) We need to find out just how local
authorities are spending their money. A third of the money in
the 10 Year Plan is going to go to the local authorities and what
they do will be critical for bus passengers, many of them on very
low incomes and marginalised. It is very critical to the road
safety targets and it will be very critical in terms of what happens
to cycling and walking. The first thing we need to do is to monitor
how local authorities are spending this additional money, and
to make sure that what local authorities spend is skewed towards
people on lower incomes. If it is not then we have some serious
problems to try and address. I go back to some of the earlier
issues that were raised. We will look very closely at the relative
price of public and private transport. If, as we fear, private
transport falls but public transport fares stay constant and indeed
rise, that is going to make it very difficult to achieve a lot
of the public transport growth targets and that is going to be
very bad news for people on low incomes, especially bus dependent
people who are going to find that their service might be cut or
their fares might rise.
483. On the question of investment, have we
got the balance wrong between large and small schemes?
(Professor Begg) We have to look at that again. I
am not convinced that we have got it right. I would put a strong
plea in favour of putting more money into the smaller schemes,
but what I cannot do yet, and the reason why I am a bit reticent,
is that I cannot produce you any hard evidence to show that that
is going to produce bigger returns.
484. Nor can you say that they would be carried
out if they were in fact accepted and the local authorities did
not have the personnel to do it.
(Professor Begg) Yes.
485. Professor Begg, I know you are familiar
with the Regional Transportation Strategy in Northern Ireland.
I am just wondering if in the development of the 10 Year Plan
there are any lessons that could be learned from the Transportation
(Professor Begg) I have to declare an interest here
as a consultant to the Northern Ireland Assembly on transport.
It is a good document. The problem is going to be that where Northern
Ireland are going to fall behind in terms of England is on finance.
I just know how desperate the financial position is and how there
is a huge shortfall of cash for health. There is a big question
mark over whether you are going to find the money you need in
that Regional Transport Strategy but the document itself is really
good. I think the lesson that could be learned as far as Great
Britain is concerned is to try and realise that there are different
targets for different parts of the country. You have a very different
set of targets for the Belfast metropolitan area and a different
set of policies than you have for the deep rural parts of Northern
Ireland, and a different set of targets for the strategic road
network. What they have done is to put different emphasis on reducing
congestion and social exclusion and the environmental gains depending
on which part of Northern Ireland you are looking at. I am concerned
about aggregate targets for England which may not be appropriate
for all regions and all parts of the country.
486. The Audit Commission is going to be asked
to assess the performance of local authorities and high performing
and low performing. High performing authorities will qualify for
more latitude in how they spent central government funds. What
transport measures and targets would you like to see incorporated
into those assessments?
(Professor Begg) Local authorities need to come up
with targets on traffic reduction. Our advice to government was
that there should be a bottom-up approach. Rather than the Government
come out with a grand target they should ask local authorities
to set targets and build from the bottom up. There are a number
of deep rural areas who probably do not want a traffic reduction
target, but I think large parts of the UK do need traffic reduction
targets. That is easier to set in one or two of them than the
congestion target but that will flow from that. I think we need
targets on accessibility, proximity to bus stops, proximity to
local shops, how far do you have to walk to buy a pint of milk
and all of that. I think we need targets on bus use. I desperately
think we need targets on walking and I think, with regard to the
report that you published on a walking strategy, the Government
would be wise to listen and adopt the policies contained in that;
I think it is a neglected mode. I would like to see local targets
on cycling. The output targets are easy. If you want to have far
more people on the bus and more people walking, they are the easier
ones. The difficult ones are the outcomes. How do we measure whether
our transport policies are creating a more inclusive society and
dealing with the exclusion agenda? How do we know if the transport
policies are helping people to be healthier or not, and to what
extent is transport the big driver in terms of people's waistlines
and how fit they are and all of that? These are the difficult
ones to measure.
487. What ought to be the priority of this Plan:
making journey times shorter or saving lives?
(Professor Begg) I would always go for saving lives.
488. Does the Plan do that?
(Professor Begg) The Plan will continue to ensure
that we have got this downward trend in road fatalities.
489. So would it be better to invest in road
safety schemes, safety improvements?
(Professor Begg) I would put more emphasis on road
safety compared with time saving reductions and congestion reductions
than perhaps has been the case.
490. What about congestion charging? Do you
think it is a good idea to have it for the whole national road
(Professor Begg) Eventually yes. Let us assume all
the technology was available this year and the Government had
the will to do it. Would that be wise?
491. Is that what your research is showing?
(Professor Begg) No. In order for this to work some
motorists are going to have to pay more and some will not pay
any more. Some might indeed pay less if they are driving on less
congested roads. Our worry is that public transport does not have
the capacity, nor indeed the quality yet, to make sure that motorists
who are forced to change their behaviour have got somewhere to
go. We think it is really important that the 10 Year Plan is delivered
and that we have got that step change in public transport quality
before there are big increases in congestion charging and so on.
492. So you get the transport in place before
you try and price them off the roads?
(Professor Begg) Yes, but that is with the national
scheme. The difficulty with that, say, in London, is that a for
lot of the Mayor's plans to improve public transport the finance
is going to come from congestion charging, so the answer is not
493. Would it be better, if you are going to
have congestion charging, to aim it to change people's behaviour
in terms of when they travel rather than where they travel?
(Professor Begg) Absolutely. I am amazed. If you look
at access to our roads, it is the only utility where we do not
pay at the point of use. We are all used to paying differential
charges between peak and off peak if we travel by train or we
use our telephone or electricity. It is a much more efficient
way to provide a service. We are convinced that there are huge
gains to be had, not just by trying to switch people by the pricing
mechanism from road to public transport but, as you say, changing
the time they wish to travel.
494. How much earlier would someone have to
get up to go to work at a cheaper rate on the motorway to make
a significant impact?
(Professor Begg) The reason I cannot be precise on
that is that it depends on the level of congestion.
495. Are we talking about half an hour or are
we talking about people having to get up at three o'clock in the
morning? People might not want to get up at three o'clock in the
morning but if it is half an hour earlier they might do it.
(Professor Begg) You would have a graduated charge.
You would start to pay at 6.30 in the morning, and it would be
more expensive at 7.30. There are an awful lot of people who do
not need to be on the road at a certain times. There are a lot
of people who can change their time of travel. Road hauliers in
particular do not always have to be on the road at peak times,
for example. There could be a price incentive which kicked in
that would encourage them to deliver at different times. We think
a lot more emphasis needs to be put on making much more efficient
use of the road capacity we have before we start to talk about
big increases in road capacity.
496. Professor, I hope you will not misunderstand
this question. It is not meant in any way to be impolite, but
what is the point of the Commission if the Prime Minister is taking
advice on long term planning not from those of you who know about
transport but from The Lord Birt whose qualification seems to
be that he does not know about transport?
(Professor Begg) Our roles are different.
497. I hope so, but that still does not answer
(Professor Begg) The point of the Commission is that
we do have this specific task to monitor Government progress on
the 10 Year Plan. It is a bit like being a referee really. If
we think that the Government are off course and what they are
doing is not consistent with the 1998 White Paper or the 10 Year
Plan then we have to call them to account publicly. We have a
very different role from that of Lord Birt. This blue skies thinking
that Lord Birt is reported to be doing and the work that we are
doing on how to pay for road use in the future, there is an element
of duplication there.
498. You have been very tolerant and very helpful.
Can I remind you that sometimes referees do extremely badly?
(Professor Begg) I know, and they are always hated.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Professor.