Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-495)
MR JOHN SPELLAR MP, MR ALAN DAVIS AND MS SANDRA WEBBER
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
480. Are you prepared to look at a trial of a number of Quality Contract schemes?
(Mr Spellar) Certainly in the event that they have been looking at Quality Partnerships and wish to approach us and say that they wish to go down this route.
481. You would not initiate pilot schemes to see whether they work or not?
(Mr Spellar) It should be for the local authorities to look at what they think best serves their local communities and then to approach us if they believe this would be the mechanism which would best serve their local area.
482. Do you think there are any lessons that we can learn from the situation in London?
(Mr Spellar) I think the situation in London is fairly unusual, not least because of the high concentration of population, the high concentration of work and a very high percentage of people relatively travelling by public transport anyway. Some of the increase on the buses in London has come from transference from tube not from car. I think, also, we have to look at the relative costs of the provision of transport in London, provision of the bus service in London, compared with other parts of the country. It is very necessary and very important for the commercial life of London. It is, however, more expensive per passenger than the services outside of London.
483. What is the real dilemma, Minister? Is it that you want to give more money to bus services but you cannot think of a way of doing it which ties it into the demand for improvements for the passengers, is that the difficulty?
(Mr Spellar) I think that one of the dilemmas is a very mixed picture across the country between operators and local authorities of good services, average services
484. Given that, what is your view of it?
(Mr Spellar) Even given that, I think we have not fully disaggregated that information, as yet, in order to get a clear view as to why what is working is working and therefore the extent to which that could then be replicated in order to bring the average up.
485. In each year you enter into negotiations with the local authorities but you are doing it on the basis of a series of figures which are not quite clear and the policy is not clear even to you, as far as you are concerned, because there are so many different models which could be followed?
(Mr Spellar) I suppose it could be described as different models but it is a very varied picture and I think this would be very familiar to the work of local authority representatives who see a very different pattern across the country, partly relating sometimes just to local geography and demographics but also to differing performance of local authorities and differing performance of bus companies.
486. All the different forms of public transport we have are governed by different laws, including taxis, which really goes back to the Hansom cab. Has the Department got any intention either of looking at ways of standardising those laws or trying to put into operation new and innovative schemes which would justify the expense that all these things cost?
(Mr Spellar) There are two issues there. One is the regulation of taxis with the local authority as a regulator.
487. That is another thing we are thinking about.
(Mr Spellar) No, not just thinking about. We have been looking at proposals. There are some concerns from the taxi trade about some aspects of that and anyone who represents a major metropolitan area knows some of the difficulties between
488. Yes. You have specifically mentioned taxis as a possible alternative.
(Mr Spellar) A very big source now, particularly in urban areas, particularly in deprived urban areas, a very significant source of transport.
489. Yes, and the second question?
(Mr Spellar) Which was the second question?
490. You said there were two different issues which concerned you.
(Mr Spellar) Sorry, the second issue on taxis then quite apart from the question of the council as a regulator is with regard to whether in regard to a number of areas taxis, shared taxis or other forms of community demand led transport, are a more appropriate mechanism for moving people, particularly at less social hours. Some of that relates to the question of security on transport, I fully accept, whether demand led transport is more appropriate than schedule led transport.
491. Would I be misrepresenting you, Minister, if I said in summary that your views are that you are not sure whether you want either increasing volume or you want to get a complete network?
(Mr Spellar) I think these are not necessarily incompatible but there is an element of dynamic tension between the extent of the network and the concentration on higher volume routes in order to achieve modal shift.
492. So your policy could be vaguely summed up as "we are not clear"?
(Mr Spellar) No, it can be summed up as these are the elements which local authorities have to take into account every day in looking at what is appropriate for their areas and, indeed, the bus operators as well.
493. Yes, but it is the Department's views that I am interested in at the moment, the local authorities have been kind enough to give evidence.
(Mr Spellar) I do not think that is just because at a local level there is no universal blueprint you could lay down and, therefore,
494. No, but if we could have a few vague hints of policy somewhere in there.
(Mr Spellar) Not a vague hint, a clear objective within the 10 Year Plan, which is to grow the bus market and to have a ten per cent increase along with the objectives outlined and endorsed by us from the Social Exclusion Unit in order to try and ensure that public transport is available so that people are not excluded from either employment or facilities.
495. So at some point we expect to be able to resolve the tension between those two objectives?
(Mr Spellar) No, I am not sure you will ever resolve it, I think it is inherent within the system and I think achieving the best balance is exactly what local authorities with their local knowledge, along with the bus operators with their knowledge of the network, have to be engaged in on a regular basis.
Chairman: Thank you, Minister, you have helped us pass an afternoon and we are very grateful.