Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
THURSDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2001
EDWARDS AM, MR
AM, MS HELEN
AM AND MS
280. Thank you, Richard. Do the others want
to come in?
(Dr Edwards) I expect my colleagues are all thirsting
to come in.
(Ms Jones) If I could follow what Richard has said
and begin by warmly welcoming your decision as a committee to
carry out these investigations. It is one of the areas where the
Assembly is beginning to develop quite a clear vision of our forward
direction but where our powers are rather confused and where we
need to collaborate very closely with colleagues on the Westminster
level to make sure that we can realise the vision that is going
to develop. I am sure Richard would begin by agreeing that most
of the vision is shared by all the parties. David has some different
standpoints, but most of us, as regards where we want to get to
with transportation in Wales, would all agree but for how we are
going to get there, of course, there is a difference of emphasis.
With the question of the PTA or the consortia, the tension obviously
(from the evidence we received) was between trying to secure local
democracy and a system which is accountable on a local level but
at the same time to secure co-ordination on a national level and
also to ensure that we have some way of securing co-ordination
between the bodies in Wales and the bodies in England because
there are so many cross-border issues, and also of course transport
over to Ireland which is very important on a European level. And
that is why we as a committee have asked the Minister to carry
out more investigations into the possible models, and perhaps
that is something that we could ask you to consider, ie, the kind
of legislation required to enable the Assembly to select one of
the models rather than the others. From the point of view of my
party we believe that it is essential that there is a co-ordination
on a national level and at the minimum we will need powers to
ensure that the local authorities participate in the consortia
because there are problems here and there where some local authorities
are not willing to collaborate with the others and that then creates
problems for the others. So the bottom line for us is that the
Assembly must have the powers to say "you must collaborate".
The second thing I would like to refer to, chair, is the whole
issue of expenditure on public transport. As we understand it,
and perhaps this is something else that you as a Committee can
get more information on, the expenditure on railways in Wales
does not even reach the Barnett level. We do not even receive
what we deserve under the Barnett Formula, although I do not want
to discuss that again today. As we understand it, we do not obtain
the Barnett level formula. I believe, Richard, it would be very
interesting from our point of view for you to carry out work on
the level of funding and collect that evidence to help the government
of Wales to help in their discussions with Ministers in Westminster.
(Ms Burnham) I also welcome the fact that you have
come to the Assembly. I am relatively new of course to both the
Assembly and to this Committee. I have been here for a month now.
I am very pleased that you have come here. I think there are so
many issues that are dear to the hearts of all parties who are
concerned with properly integrated transport in Wales. As we discussed
last Friday at our North Wales meeting which Betty attended, we
have grave concerns about the lack of investment in the rail system
generally. I am particularly concerned about the north-south links,
and not just because of a personal matter of getting here on time!
I think the SRA is an issue that we would like to commend and
we would wish to ensure that somebody from Wales (at least one
if not more people) is concerned, and particularly passengers.
It was obvious to me, looking at Virgin Trains for instance on
Friday, despite the fact we are looking forward to having this
fantastic thing across Wales that there are two problems, firstly,
the lavatorial arrangements, locking yourself in or out and, secondly,
the lack of actual luggage space. I am digressing a bit. It is
not your concern but I am talking holistically now. We must have
passengers involved. That is the major issue as far as I am concerned,
apart from the local authorities obviously. I am very pleased
that Richard has been able to chair and move the agenda so positively
towards our views on integrated transport. We are looking at a
quarter of a century of lack of investment and whether we travel
on rail or road it is extremely congested and, as we know, a recent
report that came out two days confirms what we all believe. The
Liberal Democrats and I are delighted that we can move in such
a positive way through the Welsh Assembly and we are absolutely
delighted that we can be talking to you because obviously you
are the key to the primary legislation that we need. Our plea
is for us to work positively together and ensure that, whatever
we do, we serve the passengers and the people of Wales because
they deserve it and we are looking forward very much to working
and having a positive result as soon as possible. I have talked
recently to Chris Gibb, the MD of Wales and Borders. I think he
hides now when he sees me on the train! I sent him a letter again
yesterday again because of lack of connections between Shrewsbury
and North Wales, two minutes and the train is gone, another hour,
etcetera etcetera. It is pathetic. The other thing I would like
to look forward to is that we do not spend Assembly money, for
instance, on sending a train to Crewe and not having it come down
through Wrexham. I feel as if I live in Timbuktu in Wrexham and
these are the kind of issues that I can positively see us working
towards resolving as soon as possible. After all, the passenger
does not care whether it is you or us that resolves it, they just
want the problem resolved. I was so embarassed yesterday. I had
a senior director of Tetrapak on the train with me. They have
relocated their HQ to Wrexham and I promised him I would send
to Chris Gibb about it because obviously they are coming from
Sweden, he comes every month now, and if we are trying to help
business recover or sustain business and if they cannot travel
adequately when they come from across the world, it is sad and
it is a very bad reflection, so please let's work together positively
281. Absolutely. I see this as a long series
of meetings with yourselves, either us giving evidence to you
or you to us, it is all the same thing. We can use the structures
and if we can use them and work together you are absolutely right,
we all represent people in Wales and we want to see the people
in Wales move around in a far easier way than they have been doing.
Can I bring David in.
(Mr Davies) Thank you very much for the opportunity
just to say something on this because obviously as the sole Conservative
representative on this Committee I find myself holding a slightly
different view to everyone else on occasions. Just to follow Helen
Mary's point, I just want to say that the Conservative Group think
it is very important to raise the standard of public transport
in Wales and the question is how can we do this. There are two
things that worry me. Firstly, of course I do not think that we
need more powers within the Assembly. I think it would be better
to concentrate on the powers that we already have in raising standards
of transport and also of course it is very important to remember
that in North Wales people look towards Liverpool and Manchester
and in South Wales we look more towards Bristol. So we must remember
this and bear this in mind when we are developing the transport
links. I also would like to answer the final point made by Eleanor
which is a fair one about the lack of investment in public transport.
That has been going on for longer than 25 years. There is an historical
reason for that and that is all parties made the mistake of thinking
that the car was going to replace other methods of public transport
and because of that there was a lot more investment in roads and
it became easier for people to buy cars and people genuinely saw
that as the way forward. With hindsight we can look back and say
we made mistakes. Look what happened with Beeching, that affected
parts of my own constituency, and it was a big mistake, but I
think it would be wrong, with the benefit of hindsight, to look
back and condemn everyone for having the point of view they did
at the time and, I am sorry to have to say this, but trying to
make a political point about it being one government or another
is a little bit unfair. It was a point of view that was widely
held at the time, that the car was the future.
282. The point that you make, David, about the
English connection in this (which is entirely without the remit
of the Assembly) is we have that opportunity as a UK select committee
to look at that. The realistic north-south links, unfortunately,
do go through England and our Transport Committee in the House
of Commons will not be focusing on the Welsh problem, if you like.
Somebody has got to do it and it has fallen to us to do that.
I take your point; it is true to say that we have not have sufficient
investment for a very long time and whatever the reasons it may
well be we concentrated on cars and now we are sitting in traffic
jams, as I did on the way here, suffering from those decisions.
(Mr Davies) I think that is very much the case. Nobody
realised 25, 30 or 40 years ago just what an impact the car was
going to have. Nobody could have foreseen these traffic jams at
the time. Reading modern history books there was obviously quite
a bit of optimism that more and more people were able to own cars
and that was seen generally as a good thing and now we are seeing
the downside of it.
283. Do you want to come back?
(Dr Edwards) Just to say the big hurdle we have identified
in terms of achieving some integration is that administrative
arrangements are not integrated. There is a division of responsibility
between Whitehall, Westminster and Cardiff and there is also then
a division of responsibilities within Wales between the Assembly
and local authorities, and we are not going to have an integrated
transport system unless we have integrated administrative arrangements.
We focus quite a bit on rail. It is not a devolved responsibility
but clearly, frankly, if we are going to have an integrated public
transport system in Wales we do need some power over rail alongside
our bus strategies and our partnerships, etcetera. Can I just
say about the Strategic Rail Authority that in fact although we
have no formal influence over the SRA, we have developed a good
working relationship, thanks to the Minister and her officials
but also the Committee too. I do think this is quite a sound base
for a more formalised arrangement in which the Assembly does have
a power of direction and appoints a member, etcetera.
284. Forgive me if I am being a little bit obtuse
but I want to be absolutely clear about your position on this
question of the passenger transport authority. When you say something
we could usefully do is look at the alternative models, are you
talking about the three options that you debated or have you opted
for an all-Wales authority?
(Dr Edwards) We have asked the Minister to look at
those options, to work up details and report back. But we have
asked her to seek enabling legislation anyway. That is the bottom
linewe need enabling legislation.
(Ms Jones) So that we could have legislation to enable
the Minister to enact any of those models as she sees fit. I think
it is fair to say, Chairman, that we did not come to a consensus
view as a committee about that issue. There were strong pros and
cons. It is that balance between getting the local knowledge on
the ground, the local democratic control and input but at the
same time having some kind of measure of national control, and
we could not come to clear view about that.
(Dr Edwards) There is not a consensus on the Committee
about a particular model. At the end of the day that will be a
matter for the Assembly and Plenary to decide as a political decision
by the whole of Assembly. What we have asked Sue Essex, the Minister,
and her officials to do is detailed research on the three options
that we have chosen.
285. You have talked about the options and the
new powers that the Assembly would require in order to implement
the PTA option. As regards the issues you have already discussed,
have you looked at the situation in the metropolitan areas in
England and do you believe that that would be worth considering?
Would your option be likely to reflect that thinking?
(Dr Edwards) Can I just say that I mentioned that
we had paid visits to established best practice elsewhere and
I know that members of the Committee went to Sheffield to see
the PTA in operation there. Geraint Davies is not with us today
but he went there. It is important to say the impression is that
existing models do not necessarily provide an appropriate model
for Wales and this is really why we are asking the Minister to
do some detailed background work on the options that we have put
to her. We need a model that is specifically designed for the
needs of Wales and the needs of Wales really are quite varied
because we have got the metropolitan areas in the south east and
north east and then large tracts of rural hinterlands.
286. What were your feelings after having visited
(Ms Jones) The systems they had were exceptionally
effective for the job that they needed to do because it was co-ordinating
transport in a defined area where the nature of the community
was uniform. It was an urban area and the question was of co-ordinating
the transport to ensure people from the poorer suburbs could get
access, for example, to employment in the centre of the city.
There are models that we can use to perhaps look at the hinterland
of the Valleys, the Cardiff Valleys into Newport, the Valleys
into Swansea, but we did not believe that the model was going
to work in quite the same manner in dealing with the rural problems
where sparsity issues, the same questions, are not raised really,
and that is why Richard is saying that what we believe is needed
is a completely Welsh model, and that is why we have asked the
Minister and the Civil Service to carry out greater research on
the models that already exist, in the hope that they will come
up with some idea that will achieve both aims of securing local
accountability and democracy at the same time as ensuring co-ordination
on a national level. I believe I am right in saying that we are
totally convinced that some legislative powers will be needed
in order to ensure that we as an Assembly can insist that a local
authority participates in being a consortia or PTA on a Welsh
level or some combination of both. I personally ideally would
love to see a model where there are central powers and a great
deal of accountability and locality flexibility maintained in
order to respond to the very different needs of, let's say, Powys
as compared to the town of Llanelli.
287. With your preparatory work you are saying
that a combination of various options is going to be the best
for Wales, a combination to meet the needs of all the areas and
every parish within Wales?
(Ms Jones) It is a challenge and that is why we are
asking the Minister to look for enabling legislation from Westminster,
not that one model should be forced upon Wales but that she as
Minister and the government of Wales should have the powers to
seek out that model and then ensure that every partner does participate.
We hope they will want to participate as most of local authorities
and private companies want to, but also the government of Wales
must have the power in order to ensure that everybody takes part
in the co-ordinated model.
288. Thank you, Martyn. I read your consultation
document and I think it is very good and I think it is something
that we would all want to support. I also note in the recommendations
that you were telling us about today, Richard, that some of them
are similar to what we recommended in our report on the Transport
Bill where, for example, we said that you should be able to nominate
two members onto the SRA. Presumably you thought it was too ambitious
or that the board too small to go for that. I know we did feel
very strongly as a Committee that that was what should happen.
I was going to ask you about rail and in your document you say
that rail accounts for only two per cent of the average person's
mileage in Wales and only one per cent of journeys to work. I
wondered where you put rail in the context of the importance of
rail for travel in Wales due to the figures that you have got
on pages 6, 7, and 8 in your document?
(Dr Edwards) Without question, the most popular form
of public transport in Wales is bus transportwithout question.
There has been a steady decline in bus travel in recent years,
figures of 26 per cent down between 1998 and 1999. Believe it
or not, rail travel has increased despite the horrendous increase
in problems. I know this from first-hand experience as someone
who does try to use the trains as often as possible. I can assure
you that the service to West Wales is no better than the service
to North Wales. For instance, I mentioned delegation of management
responsibility for Valley Lines and on patronage the Valley Line
has gone up 24 per cent in the last four years. So I think there
is tremendous potential. I think there is a willingness by people
to use rail. The problem is that the actual standard of delivery
at the moment is abysmally poor. This is one of the reasons why
we are focusing so much on rail.
289. I certainly support those figures because
the Valley Lines go through my constituency and there are problems
on the platforms with passengers not being able to get on because
the demand is so great and there are not enough carriages for
the passengers to get on. I certainly support a move towards greater
use of rail and any support that can be given. I was surprised
the figures were so low when I read them in your report.
(Dr Edwards) Without doubt there is potential for
increasing that, given the right policies and political commitment
really to move the agenda forward.
(Ms Jones) There also has been a cost issue about
rail transport as opposed to bus. If you take, for example, somebody
who lives in Caerphilly in Bargoed and they work in Cardiff, they
do have a choice of using the bus or the train. The bus is incredibly
inconvenient because it goes all around the houses and takes forever
to get there but it is at the moment quite a lot cheaper than
the train. That is one of the things that we touched on in terms
of issues of affordability and it can even be less expensive to
run a small, cheap, battered car if you live in Bargoed to drive
you down to Cardiff every day, particularly if you work somewhere
where you can park, than it is to have an annual season ticket
on the train. While that continues to be the case we are not going
to persuade enough people to use the trains. Affordability is
something that came up again and again, particularly when we were
looking at transport as a means of social inclusion, as a means
of getting access to work, as a means of enabling people to access
leisure facilities. That is very, very important, and fitting
in with the work that your Committee did about social inclusion,
you raised transport poverty as being one of the key issues that
(Dr Edwards) If we are going to have a truly integrated
system, if the Assembly has no official influence over rail how
can it possibly be integrated? That is a really big problem. The
other point I would make is that the Assembly is already putting
a lot of investment into rail infrastructure, so it does really
make sense for us to have real powers over rail in Wales.
(Ms Jones) As Richard has said, the Minister has done
a very good job of persuading the SRA up to now to respond to
the Assembly's agenda but it does not seem appropriate to us that
the Minister, who is investing millions and millions of pounds,
should only be in a position where she can "persuade".
Hopefully, power of direction is something she would not necessarily
have to use but it ought to be there, just as it is for the London
Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. It could have been so much
worse if the SRA had not decided to be co-operative but it does
not seem right to us that the Assembly Ministers should depend
on their goodwill in that way.
290. We have already discussed the new powers
the Assembly would need as far as a PTA is concerned and you have
also touched earlier, Richard, on the further powers that you
are seeking in relation to railways generally, and you have also
mentioned the relationship between the Assembly and SRA and how
it has been to date. Do you believe there is any room for improvement
as regards the relationship of the SRA with the Assembly? Also
what do you believe the main powers are that the Assembly needs
as far as the railways generally are concerned?
(Dr Edwards) As I say, we do actually need to be able
to direct the SRA in Wales. We cannot do that at the moment. There
is no direct influence with them, it is grace and favour. We have
a good relationship but it is grace and favour effectively on
their part. So we want the power to direct the SRA, we want a
delegation for the Valley Lines. As Helen Mary says, we want at
least one member (it could be more but we will settle for one
member as a start) in order to secure greater coherence in developing
integrated transport. We have got a good working relationship
but I think inevitably if we are going to have a fully integrated
public transport system, given the money the Assembly is already
pouring into rail infrastructure, then we need to have a voice.
It is very, very frustrating, I have to sayand this is
true of buseswe are throwing subsidies at bus operators
and we are throwing subsidies at train operators through infrastructure
support, etcetera, but where is the return? There is no public
accountability. It is a fundamental problem that we have to address
if we are going to have a step change in public transport in Wales,
indeed in the UK in general.
(Ms Jones) We have also discussed, Chairman, the importance
of the relationship with the new Railtrack or "son of Railtrack",
whatever will take its place. If central government finally decides
on some sort of company limited by guaranteeand many of
us saw that as a very attractive prospect to keep issues involving
safety in public hands in a way that is accountable on a democratic
level if the government chooses that sort of model, then we would
hope to have the right to nominate a member or members of that
board. Then, as we understand it, the board will be formed of
members representing the interest groups and we think it is critically
importantand I am sure there will be a representative from
Wales as there is a representative on the SRAbut as a Committee
we feel it is very important that the representative of the SRA
is appointed by the Assembly. We would also wish to see the reprentative
on the Railtrack board if that is the model to be approved by
the government of Wales. We think that is very important. That
may be something that you in your on-going work as things develop
at a Westminster level could keep your eye on, and if we do end
up in a situation where another private company does buy Railtrack
(and we all know that is a possibility) you could then try and
ensure that there is a strong and direct voice from the Assembly
feeding into whatever new system is adopted. You are the key people
as Welsh Members in Westminster in this area.
(Dr Edwards) As far as a successor body is concerned,
we certainly welcome a not-for-profit body with any surpluses
being reinvested in the network. That is a tremendous improvement,
a tremendous step forward. Again I think, frankly, if we are going
to have an effective system in Wales then we do need to have a
voice of the Assembly, we need to have a voice on behalf of the
people of Wales on whatever the successor body is.
291. Apart from having a strong voice on the
new body what, Richard, would you note as your main concerns?
(Ms Jones) Richard has actually asked me to answer
this. The main concern I think is the lack of co-ordination. A
lot of public money can be wasted, money which is being invested
at the moment in buses and railways, and if there is no co-ordination,
it can be wasted. One thing that came out to us time and time
again when users of the system talked to us is how difficult it
was, for example, to go from your home on a bus to get to a railway
station and carry on that journey on the train. There was no co-ordination.
Very often the situation described was the bus always arrived
five minutes after the train had left. Under the present system
it is going to be very, very difficult to stop that carrying on.
We can see a lot of wastage of public funds if that does actually
continue. We are also worried about lack of investment, as I said
earlier. I would like to hear more details of how much money from
central funds will be invested in the Welsh railways and whether
we will be given the Barnett share or not. The figures we have
received suggest we will not receive that share, and I would like
to ensure we do see the powers and funding going alongside the
powers. That is not something we have referred to before, but
it would not be any use to have the powers devolved to the Assembly
without the finances to actually implement those powers. Lack
of co-ordination, lack of investment and then of course more and
more people, as we hope to see the Welsh economy developing, will
be in a position to buy a car, we will see more cars on the road,
more grid lock in our cities and all the environmental problems
that come out of that. Personally, Chairman, I think if we do
not sort this out we are facing quite an apocalyptic situation
in 20 years' time when all the roads will be blocked fast. I do
not know if you have used taxis or driven a car in Cardiff in
the morning or evening, but it takes hours for a very short journey.
That could get worse and there are environmental pressures. We
all know in Swansea and Cardiff the number of children suffering
from asthma because of fuel from the cars specifically. But we
are also very hopeful. There is a lot of goodwill to co-operate
and a lot of ideas and that was something that came out in the
evidence we had. There were a lot of positive ideas on transport
in the community, innovative ways of using public money. What
I would want to see is that we ensure the Assembly has enough
power bring all those ideas and positive energy together to transform
the system for the future. We know on a United Kingdom level and
also on a Welsh level how far we have to go. There are great concerns,
Betty, it is true to say, but having heard the evidence as a Committee
we were quite positive on the possibilities. But those are the
two main points, lack of co-ordination and lack of money.
(Ms Burnham) I think one of the essentials is simplifying
the system. I think that having one company such as Railtrack
running the railways and then different companies running the
trains causes so much scope for problems with people casting blame.
I do honestly think the system is so complicated with Railtrack
or Railtrack Mark II running the infrastructure and then so many
rail companies. That is the difficulty as a user I think. There
is no-one accountable as such. As far as I am concerned, the public
just want to have a good service. They do not care whether it
is Railtrack's fault or this, that or the other franchisee's fault.
The difficulty is in having so many people in the loop and you
obviously in Westminster are in a position perhaps to simplify
the situation. The whole scenario is one of an absolute mess since
the privatisation of rail, as far as I am concerned. I am fairly
new, as I said, to the Welsh Assembly, and I have only been to
one meeting of the Transport Committee, but I have been a dedicated
public transport user for years and, quite frankly, it is third
world almost and in the dark ages. We are in the 21st Century,
for goodness sake, and we have got technology and yet we cannot
run trains. We must surely look to best practice in other countries
to simplify the situation so that we do not have the situation
on the ground of people being, if they are late in the station,
penalised by £1,000. That is why they do not connect. They
cannot afford, so the franchisees tell us, to connect because
if they are late they are penalised heavily. It is mad, it is,
quite frankly, stupid and a complete embarrassment as when I was
with the senior guy from Sweden. I do not think their rail transport
is such a black hole. I do urge you to look again at the whole
infrastructure in a fundamental way and you are the people who
have got the authority to do that. We cannot, we are impotent
in Wales, I feel, and we need to put it right soon because we
are investing a huge amount of money.
292. That is a well-made point. Can I ask Hywel
to ask a question and then I will wind up with a general question.
(Dr Edwards) Could I just apologise for handing the
question to Helen Mary. I did not catch what you said and I have
got an ear infection so I am not prepared to use the head phones,
so I apologise.
293. Good afternoon, I am sure you have already
answered this question but I will ask it all the same. What about
the key services running through England, for example, from the
south to the north? To what extent would new powers for the Assembly
in this example be useful and appropriate to you, that is to say
the powers of directions/power of guidance?
(Ms Burnham) I am not an expert on that but the way
I look at it is whenever I talk to Chris Gibb about why he cannot
connect north to south he says basically it is non-economic. He
says he runs his trains directly from Birmingham through to North
Wales, likewise Manchester down to Swansea, and they come through
England mostly. I think the issue is that we need to have the
political will to ensure that whatever links you have got that
they work. Years ago people who worked on railways did not have
any problems with linking wherever they worked from. It is logistics.
I have talked to so many people because I am on Shrewsbury station
for so and I talk to everybody who is around, people at the coal
face, and they tell me it is a very simple issue; the structure
is not right, it is too complicated. As I just said before, because
you have got so many people in the loop when things go wrong,
instead of working together to sort it out, people want to blame
each other and fine each other for lack of performance. That is
not what we want. We want a co-ordinated system that works smoothly.
Instead of them looking at the profitability of running all their
trains from Birmingham up to Manchester and not linking them properly
because it does not pay them in their view, we need to be able
to look at it in a very simple way. We need a good service.
(Dr Edwards) Once the Wales and Borders is up and
running we would obviously feel that the Assembly should have
responsibility for funding and directing the SRA in relation to
those services and it could be a co-signatory with the SRA across
the board for services running into England.
294. That has been very useful, Richard, thank
you for giving up your time. I know, like us, you are busy people
but it is important that we do liaise in this kind of way. We
have learned a lot today about the way that you see things should
go in Wales. We hope we have some success. We did fail to get
two members for Wales on the SRA, although we were trying for
more than the Assembly. Just lastly, is there anything you would
like to pick up on that that we have missed?
(Dr Edwards) I just want to reinforce the point quite
stronglyand I am sure you can help us out a great dealabout
pressing for formal powers for enabling legislation and also obviously
more resources; it goes without saying.
Chairman: That repeats the two messages we have
learned this afternoon. Richard, thank you very much. Thank you
very much for attending.
295. I think it has been very useful this afternoon.
We have got a sense of direction from the meeting but I think
we need to put some meat on the bones and I think perhaps we need
to exchange some correspondence to find a little bit more detail
about the committees's position on things.
(Dr Edwards) We are very happy to do that.
Chairman: It is always welcome to take written
submissions from your Committee at all stages in our collaborations
and I hope vice versa. In fact, we have already done that.
We had DTLR officials the other day and there were certain questions
we asked which we would not have known had you not told us what
you wanted to know about their policies. Thank you again.