House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
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Taken before the Committee of Public Accounts
Mr Edward Leigh, in the Chair
Mr Richard Bacon
Mr David Curry
Mr Alan Williams
Mr Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, and Ms Geraldine Barker, Director, National Audit Office, gave evidence.
Mr Marius Gallaher, Treasury Officer of Accounts, HM Treasury, gave evidence.
REPORT BY THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL
IMPROVING ROAD SAFETY FOR PEDESTRIANS AND CYCLISTS
Witnesses: Mr Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary, and Mr Mike Fawcett, Head of the Road User Safety Division, Department for Transport, gave evidence.
afternoon. Today, we are considering the
Comptroller and Auditor General's
Mr Devereux: I wonder if, before we start, you would just let me at least acknowledge that this subject, of all the ones I have been in front of you before on, I just wanted to make sure that you accept my recognition of the pain and grief that goes with this particular subject. I am sure you will know from friends and constituents who have suffered from this, and I have myself, and I do not think I want to spend the entire afternoon going through all this without at least acknowledging the pain that comes with this.
Q2 Chairman: That is why I asked the question because it is obviously particularly what any parent, and I am a parent, fears more than anything else. It is a particularly horrible thing, a child pedestrian death, and that is why I take a particular interest in anything to do with children obviously and that is why I am asking the question really.
Mr Devereux: You quote the figures which are indeed, as the NAO Report says, 2006 figures. The numbers of child deaths are a reasonably volatile series and I think we have just sent you a letter to show you where the 2007 figures are. We were, as you can see, at 1.35 child deaths per 100,000 population in 2006 and the most recent data shows that that has been halved to 0.62 and we are ninth in position rather than being 11th for child deaths. Sorry, it is child pedestrians you were asking about and on child pedestrians we were at 0.62 and we have reduced to 0.4 for 2007 and we are now ninth in the table. That is, in part, because actually for each of these ones we go on to the main road deaths per 100,000 population and the series is relatively volatile, so our position in the international leagues will move around a bit, but there is, as far as I can see, a substantial improvement from 2006 to 2007.
Q3 Chairman: Mr Devereux, you are referring to, and I want to ask you about this, a note which was only sent to the Committee on Friday. It is dated 5 June from Mr Mike Fawcett and it was not cleared with the audit team which advises us. All the members of the Committee have now got this letter, but it was sent very late and the whole point of these hearings is that we have to work on agreed figures, but there is something much worse than that, that we now look at this figures, which you allude to, and for child deaths per 100,000 population, as you have just said, we move up to nine, but these figures are completely inconsistent and incomplete. Figure 15, which I was quoting from and which this hearing is based on, is based on full figures for 24 nations. The figure that you have just referred to only refers to 19 nations and, therefore, a lot of these countries have clearly not reported, so you have alluded to, in your defence which I entirely deprecate, I have to say, a document which arrived late, was not cleared with the audit team and which is incomplete and inconsistent.
Mr Devereux: Well, I apologise that it arrived late. When I found that we had the information, I thought it would be better for you to have it than not to have it.
Q4 Chairman: Well, if you are going to send us information, let us have at least complete information. How can we possibly adduce any useful benefit from figures which only refer to 19 out of 24 nations?
Mr Devereux: With permission, I sent it in because, for many of the other columns in that table, they are complete and, as you will see ----
Q5 Chairman: Yes, but I was asking you, Mr Devereux, about child pedestrian deaths and I was very fair to you. I said right at the beginning of the question, which is why I did it, that, if we are looking at road deaths per 100,000 population, according to this Figure 15, we seem to perform fairly well, and indeed I see that actually there is some consistency there because, if we look at your latest document, we see that we are number six and in the main document we are number five. I was not asking you about that. I was asking you specifically about what is most distressing to many people which is the child deaths. In your defence, you have alluded to a document which arrived late, was incomplete and inconsistent and I would, therefore, ask you why you referred to it?
Mr Devereux: The one factor which I feel
is true about the document is that the number for the
Q6 Chairman: But it is meaningless. I am sorry, it is completely meaningless because all these countries have not put in their figures. The fact is that, if you look at that, they only go up to 19, whereas Figure 15 has 24 nations. When they all put in their figures, we might move down again or we might move up. That is why these hearings are on the basis of documents which are sent to the National Audit Office and which are agreed by an independent assessor, namely the National Audit Office, otherwise these hearings become worthless.
Mr Devereux: I was alluding to ----
Q7 Chairman: So my question, Mr Devereux, I will ask you once again: why is it that our record on child deaths is so much worse than in other developed countries? I am now repeating the question, and I think I have established that the document that you sent us late is worthless, so I now want to repeat the question and I would like to have an answer please.
Mr Devereux: The reason why we perform
less well in this is because there are circumstances in the
Q8 Chairman: Like what?
Mr Devereux: Well, for example, where our housing is located, where some of our families live relative to bigger roads and that the way in which the economic geography of the country works is not the same as for some of the other countries in this list. For example, more of our children are walking and playing on streets than in some of the other countries.
Mr Devereux: Well, I am not going to accept that it is absolutely right; I cannot possibly do that from the opening statement I made. We are working with a range of factors when it comes to children in this country which are different from some of the factors in other countries, and that is an explanation why, when you look at ranked tables and international comparisons, you will find us in a different place. The overall figures, and that includes children, show that overall we are in a better place now and ----
Q10 Chairman: So what I would hope you would say is that this is really a matter of national priority now. One death of a child is too many. I want you, Mr Devereux, to say to this Committee, "I take this extremely seriously and I am now going to get a grip on this, and this is what I plan to do and I have the levers", or you might say, "Actually, this is fundamentally a responsibility for local government, so it is very difficult for me", but we would like to know.
Mr Devereux: I do take it very seriously and I believe we do have a grip on it. It is not acceptable at the level it is at, but one of the things you have seen the Department come to talk to you about, when we now have had two successive road safety strategies in a row, we have had very substantial reductions across the piece, including for child pedestrians, though it is not at an acceptable level, and we have put out a consultation document for a third strategy that runs 2010 to 2020 and which includes quite extensive, yet further reductions in child deaths and serious injuries, including a reduction in the rate of pedestrian deaths, so yes, we do have policies in place that will tackle this. If you ask me specifically about international comparisons, I have given you some reasons why we are different when it comes to some aspects for children, I believe.
Q11 Chairman: Well, if you want to send a note in to us, we are very happy. The purpose of this is not to catch you out on a major point or anything, but the purpose is to try and get useful information from you so that we can make a difference; we are trying to help.
Mr Devereux: I understand that.
Q12 Chairman: Figure 6 on page 15: why are children from deprived areas, Mr Devereux, still four times more likely to be killed or seriously injured?
Mr Devereux: For a variety of reasons. A great number of things are worse in the deprived areas than they are in other areas and one of the things which I have already alluded to in the international comparison story was about the extent to which children are unsupervised, they are on roads and they are not being watched beyond when they come back from school, typically. The highest rates of child casualties are in the 12- to 15-year-old age, it is secondary schools when people are coming back and in some communities they are as likely to be on the street as they are anywhere else. That is a principal reason why the international comparison figures ----
Q13 Chairman: Again another priority for you because it is very alarming, is it not?
Mr Devereux: It is a priority.
Q14 Chairman: Four times more.
Mr Devereux: It is a priority and you will, I guess, be aware of the way in which we have sought to focus local government's attention on the things which are most important in each locality, and in the system of local area agreements, there are specific targets in there which local government can choose, and I think that it is 89 authorities have chosen to focus on this as one of the things they want to do.
Q15 Chairman: There is always a number of questions I have to try and get to in order to help us write our Report, but, because we have to spend so much time dealing with the non-factual basis of the note that you gave us late, I have now got to stop, but I will ask you one more question and that relates to paragraph 2.18 on page 24, which is an important one; it is education, training and publicity measures. This is what you are largely responsible for and you have a budget of over £36 million. Obviously, we want to encourage people to walk and cycle more, I would have thought, but how are we going to achieve that when only one in five people agrees that the roads are safer now than they were five years ago? How are you going to get people to walk and cycle more when only one in five people thinks it is safer now than it was five years ago?
Mr Devereux: Chairman, we have a range of things that we have been doing over the last two years and with more to come, so let me run through some of them. We are investing £140 million in Cycling England, which is a body which is undertaking a number of activities around cycling, for example, and, in particular, ensuring that we have 500,000 children trained to use bicycles by 2012 by ensuring that there are investments being made in safer routes to schools. We have 250 cycling routes now available to get to 500 schools and we are targeting 1,000 schools being on safe cycle routes by 2011. We have invested money in sustainable travel towns, sustainable cities for cycling, and each of these things is actually producing an environment in which both cycling and walking ----
Chairman: I did not actually ask you that. Mr Devereux, it does help in these hearings if you make some attempt to answer the question that is put to you. I did not ask you what you had done. What I was asking you was: how would you get people to walk and cycle more when only one in five people agrees with the statement that the roads are safer now than they were five years ago? However, there is no point in going on because Mr Curry wants to ask about cycling as well, so I will ask Mr Curry to carry on.
Curry: Mr Devereux, we all look forward to Lord
Adonis doing a tour of
Mr Devereux: I ought to declare that I am a cyclist, so ----
Q17 Mr Curry: And I have a bike, but that is different.
Mr Devereux: I am a cyclist and I come to work on a bike, so I know what you mean by "competing". How do I confess to competing? Some of the things I have just been going through with the Chairman about what we have been trying to do to make the environment within which cyclists can feel safer are exactly ----
Q18 Mr Curry: No, you have got the wrong question, I am sorry. Why are cyclists such irresponsible and arrogant road-users? The only time I have been knocked down in my life was by a cyclist going like a bat out of hell outside the House of Commons, dressed like Darth Vader, as they all do! Many people think that cyclists are hugely irresponsible, that they do not take any notice of the red lights, they think that road traffic cones are not for them, it is very competitive and that they are dangerous.
Mr Devereux: There are, without doubt, some elements of the cycling community who are in that position and there are equally, I imagine, rather more people who are far more dangerous drivers as well. The population is not homogeneous, as you well know, and cyclists ----
Curry: If a cyclist or any driver of a car drove his
car like cyclists ride their bikes, there would be nobody left on the roads of
Mr Devereux: Sorry, you are assuming that all cyclists cycle the way the dangerous cyclist who went past you ----
Q20 Mr Curry: No, I am not. I am saying that far too many are. We seem to regard cyclists as living in some sort of superior moral category when they actually do not have any.
Mr Devereux: I do not accept that.
Q21 Mr Curry: Can I move on to rural roads. You live in Kilburn, which, I am sure, is a delightful part of the world. I live in the sort of deep sticks and I take my grandchildren and my dogs out on to country roads. You will then get from behind you a voice yelling, "Clear the road!" There is a battalion of cyclists, coming at you like bats out of hell, expecting you to get out of their way as if they own the road and you do not, and they are seriously dangerous.
Mr Devereux: They have a right to tell you that, sir.
Q22 Mr Curry: The point I am making is that they do not have a bell, they do not have a horn and they do not have a speedometer. Do you not think that cyclists should be equipped with that basic equipment, even if it does provide a bit of drag or add to the weight?
Mr Devereux: We do encourage people to have a mechanism by which they can warn people where they are on a cycle. If your questions are all around a particular class of cyclist who, I would assert to you, are a small class in the grand scheme of cycling ----
Q23 Mr Curry: They are the ones who might knock over my grandchildren.
Mr Devereux: They are and ----
Q24 Mr Curry: The point I am making is: can we not devise rules which would not be an offence to the responsible cyclist, but would actually be a constraint on irresponsible cyclists?
Mr Devereux: We may well be able to do so, and we would then have to make sure that we are in a position to enforce it when there are so many other things we are trying to enforce on the roads at the same time.
Q25 Mr Curry: Can I read you a piece from The Times from yesterday, and this is in Bournemouth: "Peering out from a beach hut was a police officer armed with a speed camera, taking part in an operation to clamp down on cyclists going over the 10mph limit on the promenade. Officials have no powers to punish offenders as cyclists do not have speedometers and so do not know if they break the law. Instead they were given advice on the dangers of cycling too fast. One of those caught", and I will spare his name, "said: 'They have too much time on their hands if they can spend the day on a beach with a speed gun'". Should he not have said, "I am very sorry, indeed I am going too fast, and we ought to have far more policemen with speed guns getting hold of irresponsible cyclists when they mow down pedestrians on the promenade"?
Mr Devereux: He should probably have said that, but I do not think there is any point in my pretending that the police have got lots of other priorities.
Q26 Mr Curry: What is your view of these flat bikes, bikes which are parallel to the ground where the cyclist lies back on them with his feet above his head? Do you think they are safe, according to some Health & Safety Executive rule, in that they are likely to go sliding under a lorry or under a dog's nose?
Mr Devereux: I personally would not use one.
Q27 Mr Curry: But you see them increasingly and you really think that those must be incredible death traps.
Mr Devereux: I do not know that I see them increasingly, I am sorry.
Q28 Mr Curry: Well, come along my country lanes and I will demonstrate it to you.
Mr Devereux: You clearly have a wider range of exposure to poor cycling performance in your constituency than ----
Q29 Mr Curry: That may well be the case. Mr Devereux, on page 5, number 5, we have some targets, and we all love targets. How did you arrive at the target which says that "the strategy is to reduce by 2010 the number of people killed and seriously injured by 40%", the number of children killed and the rate of injuries, but why 40% as opposed to 42.6%? How did you arrive at that? What is the actuarial calculation or whatever calculation which delivers that figure?
Mr Devereux: One of the things that characterises this particular subject is that it is very rich in evidence in the research about what might work, so, when these targets were set, a lot of work went in to trying to assess what sorts of things we are actually doing in the subsequent ten years with what effect we might expect them to affect deaths and, therefore, what would be plausible restricting targets, so these were not dreamed up out of the air.
Q30 Mr Curry: But they all end in a nought, do they not? Real life does not obey decimals in that way.
Mr Devereux: No, but I do not imagine you would believe me if I said it was 41.6 either.
Q31 Mr Curry: It would intrigue me more, I must say, but it would not have aroused quite such suspicion.
Mr Devereux: By and large, targets are good if they are obviously memorable, so let us assume that 40% is rounded to be something which people can remember, but it is based on evidence of what was possible and, can I just stress, we are actually achieving this target. The most recent data up to September 2008 shows a fall of 39% in total killed and seriously injured on the roads. That was in 2008.
Q32 Mr Curry: I am certainly pleased about that. Could I refer you to ----
Mr Devereux: For a long-term target, I regard that as quite an achievement.
Q33 Mr Curry: I am happy to accept that. Page 17, the chart which the Chairman has already referred to: November and December of course are the darkest days of the year pretty much, though we could add January to that, and August is the holiday period, I suppose. If we did not change our clocks and we stayed on summer time, what difference, do you believe, would that make from the evidence that you have on the number of accidents occurring?
Mr Devereux: We have done research on this several times and basically this all dates back to looking at the experiment which was done in 1968 to 1971 when we had precisely that timeframe. The Transport Research Laboratory estimate that it would save a further 82 fatal casualties in a year if we were to go on the same time throughout the year rather than switching the clocks.
Q34 Mr Curry: Would you welcome another experiment to enable us to look at this? There are far more users on the road, there are hugely more vehicles on the road than there were at the time they did that and the roads themselves have changed a lot, so would you welcome another one to get some up-to-date statistics so that this endless political argument might have some evidence which is irrefutable one way or the other?
Mr Devereux: I am not sure whether anybody refutes that such a time arrangement would save death and injury on the roads, but the reason why, as I understand it, it has been contentious is because of quite different considerations to do with what it is like being a farmer, a construction worker, a postman or milkman in the north of the country.
Q35 Mr Curry: But it is, as far as you are concerned, unequivocal that, if we remained on Continental time and did not change to British winter time, then fewer people would be killed on our roads?
Mr Devereux: That is the consistent finding of all the research.
Q36 Mr Curry: On page 6, there is something slightly alarming here which I do not think is your fault, but you fund innovative projects, but it then says that actually ----
Mr Devereux: Whereabouts are you?
Q37 Mr Curry: I am at paragraph 11 on page 6. There is no point in funding projects if highway authorities do not have the expertise to evaluate the success. What can one do to make sure the evidence we are getting is much more firmly based evidence?
Mr Devereux: This is a finding which I completely accept and where actually our practice has been changing. You will see from the table a bit later on about how many partnership projects we have run over the last three years. In the first tranche we did 27, the next one 19 and in the third ten. I can assure you that all the ten in the current tranche we have just started are projects where, partly because there are fewer of them and they are larger, we have got evaluation plans in place.
Q38 Mr Curry: So is the Government intending to put forward a document of some sort which pulls together the evidence as to what measures might add up to a significant reduction in road accidents, for example, pulling together the evidence about summer time, pulling together the evidence about the evaluation of these trials you have here, pulling together the evidence about speed limits? Would it not be helpful to have that, a document which brought these into one place?
Mr Devereux: I do not know if you have seen the consultation document that we put out just a few months ago, but it begins by recording the things that we know do work, and there is a very substantial body of work, where another recommendation is about how you simplify that, which is provided to local government about the measures that actually work in their areas.
Curry: Could I just go on to page 14.
Mr Devereux: There is a problem in that, whenever you disaggregate something which appears to have a nice smooth shape, it never does by doing it by another class of person, and that is the point I was making earlier about pedestrians, or indeed by regions. Personally, looking at that variation across the English regions, I would not be surprised if that is as much noise as it is anything else, but it will make a huge difference.
Q40 Mr Curry: Noise?
Mr Devereux: Noise in the series, just random effects. We do have some fairly substantial urban areas in that area which actually will ----
Q41 Mr Curry: Yes, we do, and I was not sure if there was a depravation element playing into this.
Mr Devereux: Well, there will be depravation, but also, precisely because it is a large area, you have got a lot of rural areas as well, so you may have paradoxically sort of a bad combination of a lot of urban areas and a lot of rural roads, but, to be honest, I do not look at those numbers and think, "Gosh, that needs a special task force for Yorkshire", although, coincidentally, we have been doing quite a lot of work on that now.
Q42 Geraldine Smith: I would like to pick up where Mr Curry left off on cycling because I think sometimes with irresponsible cycling that there is an attitude where it seems to be dismissed as something trivial. I had four area forums in my constituency last year, over 100 people attended most of them, and what people were saying was that irresponsible cycling was an issue that they were concerned about. Can you tell me, first of all: is it illegal to cycle on pavements?
Mr Devereux: No, I do not think so. I will just check that. I have a feeling that it is a Highway Code recommendation not to do it rather than it being actually against the law.
Q43 Geraldine Smith: What sanctions are taken against someone cycling irresponsibly on the pavement because I have a constituent who was seriously injured by a cyclist and there was very little, it appeared, that the police could do about that, and this is becoming more and more a regular occurrence. I have had a few incidents in my own constituency where people have been injured and older people, in particular, are very concerned about this issue, and I think that sometimes it is dismissed, as I say, as being trivial, but a lot of people see it as something which more attention should be given to.
Mr Devereux: I do not think it is true, but I shall check whether ----
Q44 Geraldine Smith: So what are you doing to improve responsible cycling?
Mr Devereux: Sorry, I have just checked this and it is illegal to be on the pavement. That being the case, there is no reason why a policeman should not ----
Q45 Geraldine Smith: It is illegal? Do the Department for Transport make that clear to the police because a police superintendent was at this forum with me and he said that it was legal to cycle on pavements, so, if you are confirming that, I can go back and tell him that it is actually illegal.
Mr Devereux: It is page 22 of the Highway Code in red, which means it is illegal, "You must not cycle on the pavement".
Q46 Geraldine Smith: Excellent! I am very pleased about that. I shall go back and tell him.
Mr Devereux: It is Rule 64. In terms of whether or not people are aware of it, and you have clearly caught me out, I was not expecting quite so many anti-cyclist questions, so forgive me, we have within the Department a police liaison officer and I will go back and make sure that he actually makes that clear to the police.
Q47 Geraldine Smith: Yes, if you would, because I was quite surprised at these forums that it came up, not just at one, but at every one of them, as an area which people were really concerned about, and I did expect it a bit, but I think there is a feeling that people in authority do not take it seriously enough. As I say, the superintendent that I was with said, "No, it is legal to cycle on the pavement, it is just illegal if it is irresponsible cycling", and that is quite different from what you have said, so maybe there should be an instruction going out to every police force in the country making the position clear to people.
Mr Devereux: I will ask the liaison officer to do something appropriate to make sure it is clear.
Q48 Geraldine Smith: Thank you, that would be very helpful. Coming on to the issue of deaths and injuries for pedestrians and cyclists on the road, speeding seems to be one of the major contributory factors, and I notice on page 7, I think, that it mentions that the 20-mile-per-hour zones have been very successful in reducing deaths and injuries, so can I ask why there are not more of those? If we can save lives, why are we not getting those in place at a faster pace than we are already doing?
Mr Devereux: The 20-mile-per-hour zones are primarily about residential roads, and residential roads are almost wholly owned by local highway authorities, so they are not roads for which the Department for Transport is directly responsible. What we are doing each year is putting of the order of £600 million worth of money into local government at large to do what they choose to be their priorities on transport, and that will include things to do with 20-mile-per-hour zones, but it will also include improving bus interchanges and the like. What we have been doing more recently is trying to work out how to make this as effective as possible, and there is quite a big trial which has been taking place in Portsmouth to try to identify what the effect is of simply going at this with signs, which is the much cheaper way of doing it, but with a question mark over whether that is actually as effective as rather more expensive programmes. In answer to your question of how do you prioritise it, all those authorities which have a major problem with death and injury on the roads in residential areas will, as a consequence of the way they think about their local area targets, have been incentivised to be thinking about what funding to put into that. We are not, from central government, mandating that that is the most important thing to happen in any one particular area, it might not be and, if you are in Lincolnshire, it may well be that you want to do your rural roads, but we have certainly made very clear to people and very consistently in the strategy document we published two months ago that 20-mile-per-hour zones are an effective way of reducing pedestrian deaths.
Q49 Geraldine Smith: It seems such a high percentage to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths by 63%. That is a really high level and I think it should be given much greater priority.
Mr Devereux: Well, that is the sense of the conversations we have been having with local government. It is their choice ultimately about what they regard as a priority.
Q50 Geraldine Smith: But you are certainly doing all you can to encourage them?
Mr Devereux: We are seeking to do that, yes.
Q51 Geraldine Smith: What about speed cameras because again they are unpopular with the public, but I think they are a necessary evil really and I think they really do help reduce people's speed in cars and, therefore, help to prevent deaths on the roads. What is your feedback? Again, what are you doing in terms of education to make motorists aware of the importance of speed cameras and, rather than just hate them, to appreciate that they actually do save a great many lives?
Mr Devereux: My own observation is that many of us are actually in rather two minds about speed cameras. There are plenty of people who are against a speed camera when they are bowling along, but who want a speed camera outside their own child's school, so this is not, I think, a question of, "You've got this view and you've got that view, so can we weigh it up?" but we are all sort of slightly mixed up about it, depending on the circumstances. It is, in my view, incontrovertible that speed cameras have an effect on speed and that having an effect on speed has an effect on safety; that is what the evidence says and you can measure it in several different ways, but it is real and it is profound. We have had a rather difficult conversation with many people who think the entire thing is just an exercise in raising fines and we deliberately, two years ago, changed the funding arrangements so that we no longer say, "You pay for speed cameras out of fines", but fines, like any other fines, now go into the Treasury, and we are providing a wholly open-to-spend road safety grant of the order of £110 million a year to local government, so there is no connection anymore between the fine revenue and what people choose to do. If they think that speed cameras are the wrong solution for their area, they can spend the money differently, but there are no incentives to artificially get speed cameras. For my money, they are actually very effective and that is what has been demonstrated.
Smith: I have seen a very successful project at
Mr Devereux: Well, we have, for quite a while now, been running increasingly explicit media campaigns on road safety, and even I wince at some of the positions that you find yourself in. We have been trying though to segment some of these media campaigns to make sure they are being seen by precisely the people who need to see them. We have been doing some stuff particularly around young males, and they are not going to be sitting watching the average TV advert that you would expect to see, so some of these things are actually happening on the Internet and in places that you would not normally see, but we are trying to make sure that actually we are bringing home to people quite how bad these things are.
Q53 Geraldine Smith: Do you have any evidence to suggest that they are working and is there any way that you can monitor the effect of them? Certainly, just from my own personal view, looking at a group of young people, they appear to work in the afternoon when they watch some shocking footage.
Mr Devereux: I have not brought the figures for this particular campaign with me, but consistently the Think! campaign, which is the big advertising and marketing campaign, begins with fairly detailed research of attitudes before they begin, they target that attitude through the media and they measure it afterwards, so, if I were doing drink driving, which I have brought with me, or seatbelts, which I have brought with me, you can see the shift in attitudes, so would you mind if I went away and found the particular one you have asked me about and I will come back and tell you how the media advertising that we have done, particularly around young men and teenagers, actually is changing their attitudes.
Q54 Geraldine Smith: Finally, just going back to bicycles and cycling, why do you think there is a law saying that you have to have a bell on a bicycle when it is manufactured and when you first buy it, but then you do not have to keep that bell on and you can take it off the day after you buy that bicycle? Do you not think that is a bit illogical?
Mr Devereux: It was a major step forward to ensure that actually bikes were supplied with bells on because, by and large, once they are supplied, people keep them and, if you supply them without them, by and large, they do not go and buy them, so it is a step forward to at least have got to the position where they are supplied with a bell.
Q55 Geraldine Smith: But why not take the second step and say that we should always have a bell on a bicycle?
Mr Devereux: I guess it is always possible to have ever more compulsory laws about ever more things, and I guess bells on bicycles are in the category that we should be delivering them with bells.
Q56 Mr Curry: Whistles will do.
Mr Devereux: Or whistles. As I understand it, and correct me if I am wrong, we are now expecting new bicycles to be delivered with bells on them.
Q57 Mr Curry: Welded to them?
Mr Devereux: Well, if the legislation said "welded", we could have had them welded, but I think it just says "fitted".
Q58 Geraldine Smith: Just before I finish, can I stress again that this is an issue that registers a lot more than you would think with the public.
Mr Devereux: For cyclist safety reasons or for bad cycling reasons?
Q59 Geraldine Smith: Well, I would guess it is for pedestrian safety, but also cyclists because you see more and more examples of cyclists cycling at night without any lights on, without bells on their bicycles and also cycling in a very irresponsible fashion.
Mr Devereux: I am afraid I am going to hypothesise that the sort of person that is cycling irresponsibly without lights on a pavement is probably not going to considerately tinkle his bell just because he has got one. The problem goes further back to why are they in this position in the first place to which, I suspect, if it is indeed the case and the police have powers to stop cycling on the pavement in the first place, that is where we should take the action, but, I am afraid, I must repeat the point I made earlier, that the police do have an awful lot of things to do and this is not typically the very highest on their realistic agenda.
Geraldine Smith: Thank you very much, you have been very helpful.
Q60 Chairman: With regards to speed cameras, I agree with you, that people normally will not object to speed cameras outside schools and in accident black spots, but I think what irritates people is when the speed limits change from 70 down to 60 down to 50 on big dual carriageways, such as the A1, and I know people should be conversant, but that is what, I think, people find objectionable. I just wonder whether there is any evidence as to how much difference those speed cameras on big motorways and dual carriageways coming in and out of cities make in terms of road safety.
Mr Devereux: The fastest way to get out of a road speeding conviction is to demonstrate that the camera has not been properly signed as to the road speed limit before you get there, so you should find, and I am sure you will have a road where this is not the case, that actually, before you get to a speed camera, there are indeed clear signals of what the actual speed limit is. I am afraid that the reason why the speed limit varies is because that is a judgment as to what is safe on that road, and part of the reason in the Road Safety Strategy for inviting local government to think about 60-mile-per-hour rural roads is because many roads do not actually survive 60-mile-per-hour limits and they should be lower. That is why they change. The answer to your question is that they should be properly signed so that you can see that and, if they were not properly signed, I am afraid we would not be able to enforce the penalty against you.
Bacon: I have had two occasions, and certainly I
could start on them, though I was planning of course to start on the
irresponsible behaviour of cyclists, but the Chairman has got me started on
speed cameras and then on the 60-mile-per-hour limits. I have twice tried to persuade my local
county council that a 60-mile-per-hour limit outside a school on a rural road,
a very rural road, is not sensible. Once,
I succeeded in getting the limit changed, but on the other occasion I have been
banging my head against their door for several years and they have acknowledged
that maybe they will look at it. We have
established that between 20 miles per hour and the national speed limit it is a
matter for local authorities, it is for them to decide, but it does seem to me
that not enough priority is given to this.
The roads in each case that I have been talking about are ones where no
one in their right mind would drive at 60 because you could not do so safely and
yet there is still the legal limit, but it is quite odd. Now that I have got that off my chest, I will
come on to cyclists, so it was not a question.
I tell you this: I have spoken of this in three different ways, once as
a very keen cyclist many years ago, secondly, as someone who drove in
Mr Devereux: Well, I have got a clear message from three of you on where cyclists are and their behaviour with the law. I have already explained, courtesy of the person now working for us who is a connection with the police, let me see if I can do something to make the police aware of what the law is. I am afraid I have to repeat my earlier caveat that, if you say to the hard-pressed constabulary, "Actually, I've got one more thing for you to do", they do not ----
Q62 Mr Bacon: But it is the hard-pressed constabulary that can be assisted by an act of citizenry. We have in Morley St Botolph a community speed watch.
Mr Devereux: A community speed watch?
Bacon: Yes, and it is working very well. I think it was inspired by a local farmer, a
constituent of mine, who, when he was not busy putting his peas in, was
suggesting that people vote for me, so I am a great fan of his! He got very hacked off with cars coming round
the corner near to where he lives and speeding, so he donned a yellow
high-visibility jacket, got out a hairdryer and crouched in a ditch, and of
course these locals slowed down. I thought
he was being very public-spirited, but unfortunately the beak at Norwich
Magistrates' Court took a slightly different view! One of the consequences of that was that the
local constabulary realised that there is actual citizenry there which will
help, and I have witnessed that in Morley St Botolph which is actually one of
the sites with a 60-mile-per-hour speed limit outside the school. The police will train and assist local
citizens who are volunteers, and it is only their zeal that needs to be
restrained, to be honest, to use proper professional radar guns and, with
enough witnesses, you can get evidence which will stack up in court, so you can
present it and the police can then prosecute, so the constabulary who, as you
say, are hard-pressed are then free to go on and do other things. I am sure you could do the same with
cyclists. There is plainly a big
difference. Judging by the figures on
page 9, it looks to me like you are 41 times more likely to be killed by
driving a motorcycle than you are driving a car, and pedal cycling, although it
is not as dangerous as motorcycling, is still very dangerous in comparison with
the car with 3.4 fatalities per 100 million passenger kilometres versus 0.269,
so it is still much, much more dangerous.
It is quite obvious that a significant proportion of this is due to the
behaviour of other road users like cars and lorries and the fact that
motorcycles and pedal cycles are vulnerable, there is no question about that,
and you mentioned that you have yourself suffered from the trauma that comes
with this, as many people have, and many of us have local citizens who
have. I had an adjournment debate and I
was shocked, it was about the issue of death by careless driving, that there
was no legislation. I was shocked in
September 2004 to find 20 Members of Parliament who were all party to that
debate, that everybody had a case in their own constituency. It is clearly an issue with those road users
where, because of the vehicle speed, motorcyclists and cyclists are
vulnerable. It is also plainly the case
that a significant contributor to these statistics is the behaviour of
motorcyclists and cyclists. I know, from
just driving around in
Mr Devereux: You have made the point I was going to make. I can see an assertion creeping in that says that, because they are badly behaved, they are a big part of this number. I am afraid I do not know that that is the case. I can believe that, and some of the people who jump red lights are clearly ----
Mr Bacon: Well, it is an assertion, but
perhaps it is not borne out in fact and perhaps you can tell me what the facts
are. In fact, I should say something in
parenthesis. I think there is a very
good story to tell here, and we have been quite critical of you. If you had asked me how many fatalities there
are on the roads, I would have said 3,500 because that is the number that has
been in my head for several years and I was very pleased to see that it was
2,900. I remember, five years ago,
looking at this and looking at the comparisons with
Chairman: You are getting awfully discursive.
Q64 Mr Bacon: Sorry. There is a good story to tell, which is why I am saying it in parenthesis, but, of the 2,946 people who were killed, referred to in paragraph 1.2, 646 of them were pedestrians and 136 were cyclists, but what were the others?
Mr Devereux: Well, 1,432 were car occupants, 588 were motorcyclists and the difference between those four and 2,946 were van drivers and lorry drivers in relatively small numbers.
Q65 Mr Bacon: Perhaps you can send us the chart with all of them on.
Mr Devereux: I can.
Q66 Mr Bacon: I am surprised you do not report it. So 588 were motorcyclists?
Mr Devereux: In 2007, the deaths, yes.
Q67 Mr Bacon: So 588 were motorcyclists out of a total of 2,946, in other words, exactly 20% to a round number. Now, obviously what you need to do to find out how important and relevant that is is to compare the number of miles covered by cars with the number of miles covered by motorcyclists and then you will be able to tell whether my assertion is right or not, will you not, the fact that the behaviour of motorcyclists contributes to the higher proportion of motorcyclist deaths?
Mr Devereux: I can tell you that there are 10.5 motorcycle deaths per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled by motorcyclists.
Q68 Mr Bacon: It says 4.42 here, 4.42 fatalities per 100 million passenger kilometres.
Mr Devereux: That is the average over 1997 to 2006 and I was quoting the numbers that went with what I have just quoted.
Q69 Mr Bacon: Sorry, 11.14.
Mr Devereux: That table is headed as the average over 1997 to 2006 and I was quoting you the 2007 figure of 10.5.
Q70 Mr Bacon: But it is still top and it is still much, much higher than the others.
Mr Devereux: Yes, and cars are 0.4.
Bacon: Can I ask you why it is per 100 million
passenger kilometres because, when I was first elected, it used to be per
million passenger miles? The top one
there, air, is useless, it is literally useless. There is no useful comparison you can do
between travel by air when it is 0.000, and it is not the case that nobody dies
from travelling by air, there are fatalities.
We have a lot of light aircraft in
Mr Devereux: The "3" tells you that the
air figures are for UK-registered airline aircraft in
Q72 Mr Bacon: But my point is that it is 0.000, and it is Department for Transport data which is the source of that, but it is utterly useless in telling me anything I can use as a basis for calculation.
Mr Devereux: I did not put the table in.
Q73 Mr Bacon: No, but it says it is Department for Transport data and you are the Permanent Secretary.
Mr Devereux: It is our data, but it is not my table.
Q74 Mr Bacon: But why did it used to be put in passenger miles, is my question?
Mr Devereux: Why did it used to be?
Q75 Mr Bacon: There used to be a figure that you could understand, and there have been a number of these, which you could then use to manipulate and calculate other numbers.
Mr Devereux: If I may make a small, flippant point, if it were a million passenger miles, it would be even smaller than nought.
Q76 Mr Bacon: Well, I do not know. All I remember is that the Parliamentary Advisory Council sent me some figures on this when I was first elected eight years ago and there was a meaningful number for air travel and now there is not.
Mr Devereux: Well, I am sorry, I am going to defend the number. To two or three decimal places, you will not be killed in an aircraft, is what this says, for 100 million ----
Bacon: What I am saying though is: why do you not produce
figures which are useful rather than figures that are useless? This is a useless figure. I cannot do anything with it and I cannot do
any useful sums with it. There are air
fatalities in the
Mr Devereux: It is not my table.
Q78 Mr Bacon: It is your table. It says "Source: Department for Transport data".
Mr Devereux: The figures are sourced from the Department for Transport.
Q79 Mr Bacon: But you are the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport.
Mr Devereux: We can argue this one all afternoon. I agree with you, that, if you want to have a different table that showed, for example, how many hours you have to be in any of these things or the absolute number of deaths, we could have put that in, but that is not what the National Audit Office chose to put in, sir.
Q80 Mr Bacon: I know that your record on statistics is not a brilliant one, and it was your Department which gave this Committee figures on evasion of excise duty for motorcyclists which turned out to be wrong and had to be corrected and we ----
Mr Devereux: No, my Department wrote you quite a lengthy letter to explain that what they gave you was correct when they were here. They told you that there was work in progress and, when that work in progress was produced, they produced the further information, so I think that is unfair.
Q81 Mr Bacon: Well, I was there at the time.
Mr Devereux: You were and I remember reading the letters. Let us agree that we are in a good place on the evasion of vehicle excise duty now.
Q82 Mr Bacon: I am glad it is getting better.
Mr Devereux: It is much better.
Q83 Mr Bacon: Finally, I would just like to ask about local authorities and the contrast between paragraph 3.6, which talks about the key ways in which the Department can influence practitioners, through research papers, best practice guides and so on. It says in bullet point two that the "research is often written with policymakers or other researchers in mind, rather than practitioners", and yet, if you look at paragraph 1.27 on page 18 where it splits up your budget for the Road User Safety Division and how it is spent, it is quite obvious that, although you do spend some on the staff costs for policy and strategy, a lot of it goes on other things, with £3.9 million on research, distributing grants and demonstration projects at £14 million and national publicity and so on at £17 million. Could you not do more to make sure not only that the standard you have is better and of more use to local authorities, but also, and this is the third bullet point of paragraph 3.6, that "stakeholders and practitioners have a valuable perspective and the Department could involve them more in shaping research programmes"? What that means to me is that there is a lot of good expertise out there at the rock-face where they are seeing things going on and there are people over here in their, I hesitate to use the term, but I will, ivory tower who are not doing as much as they could to talk to practitioners, which is basically what that is saying. Is that not a fair comment?
Mr Devereux: I do not think I have ever met a stakeholder group which has entirely said everything the Department does is perfect, so I am certainly going to accept that, that we could do more on this. If you look beyond to paragraph 3.7, you begin to see some of the things which the NAO has recorded that we are actually doing. For example, we have begun to produce a dissemination programme with seminars, and these seminars have been basically sell-outs around the country and we have had lots of people come to them. We have now produced four-page summaries of each of these research projects. We understood the point and we were doing something about it even before the NAO came along.
Q84 Keith Hill: This has been a rather cathartic session so far, it appears to have been, and I am almost embarrassed in reverting to the somewhat low-key topic of data on road casualties. The only thing I would caution my colleagues is that they can now expect, if any of these observations are broadcast, an avalanche of hate-mail. I remember once referring to cyclists as "hooligans on wheels" and I have never had such a large mailbag as a result of that. However, it was of course in the columns of London Cyclist, so I suppose it was a rather obvious provocation. Nevertheless, let me get on to the issue of data on road casualties, and can I just revert also to the somewhat contentious issue of the international comparisons and say that I take your point, Mr Devereux, that you were drawing attention to the fact that the rate of casualty had declined in this 12-month period apparently from 0.62 to 0.40 and the issue was, therefore, the rate rather than the ranking of where the UK came in these tables. However, I have to say, if you look at the countries reported in your table, it appears to me that half of the figures go up and half of the figures go down so, as you said, these are very volatile figures and I doubt you can draw very many conclusions from them, but let me turn --
Mr Devereux: Can I just say that that is very true of the children one, but it is far less true of the ones on the far left-hand side. On overall deaths, it is very stable and, if you look at the people in the top five, they are the same year after year after year, so you can have some confidence about our aggregate performance.
Q85 Keith Hill: Let me talk about the way in which you report road casualties. If you look at Appendix 2 of the NAO Report, paragraph 8, it is observed that there is some research at least which indicates the total number of serious casualties may be twice in fact the number reported, so let me ask you: how can you claim that you are meeting your targets when in fact you do not know if the levels of reporting have changed over time?
Mr Devereux: This is a subject on which the Department has been active for the last two to three years. This is not a new story that has suddenly turned up with the NAO Report. I read back to the 2006 statistical publication and actually started to go through what we know about health episode statistics, for example, and where the trend data on all that is coming from. Let us be clear, that it will not be the case that everything is always going to be recorded. All the analysis that we have done suggests that we are almost certainly picking up all the fatalities and we are almost certainly picking up all the serious injuries of the kind that, you might imagine, would keep you in hospital for more than two days. There is some noise in the system as to whether or not some people who find themselves in hospital for nought to one day have or have not been collected in the police statistics. Something which has given rise to the interest in all of this is because there has been a sharp rise in the hospital data about the number of people who have been admitted for nought to one day since 2003, and the deduction has been made from that that, somehow or other, we have not got our act together on road traffic accidents because the health data is showing something else. The analysis which we published made perfectly clear that there are rather more profound reasons why the health numbers are going up and they are not simply going up for road traffic accidents, but right across the board.
Q86 Keith Hill: I think you are probably right, that there does appear to be an issue about the definition of recording where the police seem to record and define in perhaps a different way from the hospitals, but we do of course use the police data and, if you look at Figure 14 on page 33 of the Report, hospital admissions paint a much worse picture than the police reporting. The hospital admissions indicate two-fifths more pedestrian severe cases, a fifth more cyclist serious cases and indeed three-fifths more road casualties of all sorts. If you are looking at these different sources of recording, let me ask you when you think you will be able to adjust for the under-recording in the police data and tell us how many road casualties there really are?
Mr Devereux: Perhaps I can just push back on some of this data, because that is what I was trying to explain. Let me take the cyclist figures in here, for example. The figures that we published two years ago showed that the health statistics were indeed recording 7065 hospital admissions for cyclists. Of those, 4268 had had no collision at all; they had fallen off their bike and gone to hospital. That is not, by my definition, a road traffic accident. It is that sort of definitional issue which is causing some of this headline stuff. It is not sophisticated in this analysis about what is going on. We have done reports, both in 2007 and in 2008 which make it perfectly clear that we have a much better grip of whether there is a big distinction or not and, actually, the police data comes out extremely favourably when it comes to thinking about serious injuries and fatalities. We are not saying, as I said when I began, that somehow or other we have captured absolutely everything, but we did some very detailed matching last year of all the data from the police over five years, with all the data from the hospitals over the same period and you actually find that the police have got very good coverage of anything that you would recognise as a death or a serious injury from a road traffic accident as opposed to be something connected with a bike.
Q87 Keith Hill: That is genuinely very interesting and, with respect to the NAO, I do not find that in this Report. I believe that if that is the case and if you have done that kind of detailed analysis it would really be extremely helpful to this Committee if you were to let us see it.
Mr Devereux: I have brought it with me and I will be happy to send it to you.
Q88 Keith Hill: We would welcome that. Nevertheless, let me express a little scepticism around the reliance on police data because the fact of the matter is that if you compare the police records with the hospital records with other sources of information, for example benefit claims in the Report, the fact of the matter is that without exception the police statistics are the lowest. Therefore it is a reasonable question as to why you do continue largely to rely on a reportage which gives you the lowest possible measure of casualties.
Mr Devereux: I hope I have not asserted that I am guaranteeing that the police data is correct; I am saying that consistently the analysis we have done against different sources suggests that it provides the most robust position as to what is going on and, in particular, as to trends over time. That is the thing which I am trying to keep a track on. If I am an uninsured driver who has driven with a drink in me and I have come off the road, I am unlikely personally - if I have had an accident entirely on my own - to ring up the police and report it. I am probably likely to go to A&E because I have cracked my head open. There are bound to be classes of people whom the police will not get to know of, whom the hospitals will get to see, so there will be under-recording, and that problem is exactly the same in other countries. Internationally we know that police data will not actually come to the top, but what is going on in some of these annexes is the general argument that somehow or other because there are other statistics the police data on which we have relied are wholly unreliable. That is not the evidence which our own statisticians have actually generated. They have done consistently, though, large amounts of work on this and there is more work being published this summer on the data matching between hospitals and the police data. I am afraid I cannot quite recall when we are proposing to do some work on the insurance stuff.
Q89 Keith Hill: Chairman, I wonder if it would be possible for me to ask the Comptroller to come in at this point and perhaps comment on the differential reporting according to the sources that are used here.
Mr Morse: That is fine, Mr Hill. If I may I will ask Ms Barker to comment on this.
Ms Barker: Basically there are lots of different databases. What we are actually saying, as Mr Devereux has pointed out, is that there are problems with all of them. What we are urging the Department to do is to look at them in a more holistic way so that they get a better understanding of what is happening with the statistics.
Q90 Keith Hill: Are you satisfied that that process is going forward?
Ms Barker: Certainly the Department is able to provide us with evidence of work that they are doing at the moment and we would encourage them to carry on.
Q91 Keith Hill: Have they indicated to you by what date they expect to have more reliable holistic figures?
Ms Barker: No, and we actually have the recommendation in here that it needs to be completed as a matter of urgency.
Q92 Keith Hill: As a matter of urgency. Will the Department respond to that recommendation?
Mr Devereux: Yes. I wish I could tell you that this is a very simple question and that so long as I got to Day X this would all be brought to an end, but this is a constantly moving problem. The way in which the NHS incentivises or otherwise, for example whether you stay in A&E for four hours or get admitted makes a difference to their statistics, so actually it is not as if all these statistics are stable and so just for the want of some effort we can put the thing to bed forever. However, it is my memory - but I will check this and get back to you - that we are hoping to produce yet further information on this, this summer. The point I am making is that actually we were publishing information on this in 2007, we published it in 2008; this is not news, we are aware of it as you would imagine for a subject which is actually very, very rich in evidence. Of all the subjects that are likely to come in front of you, this is the one that has actually got some facts behind it.
Keith Hill: Thank you very much, Chairman.
Q93 Nigel Griffiths: Mr Fawcett, you are the head of road safety. Are you aware of the achievements in Edinburgh and the Lothian Borders in respect of child deaths?
Mr Fawcett: I am not directly aware of exactly what has been achieved there, no.
Q94 Nigel Griffiths: A decision was taken in 2000 to eliminate child deaths and for the next five years or so not one single child was killed in the Lothian Borders area. That was through the use of speed cameras, speed humps and 20 mph zones, and I am very depressed if you do not know that, if you are the person responsible for showcasing best practice around the country.
Mr Fawcett: We are certainly aware that those are all measures that can be extremely effective and the Department's guidance to local authorities in England certainly commends all those approaches, and in the new strategy draft which we published on 21 April we are further encouraging the use of 20 mph zones, we are saying that that should become the norm over time.
Q95 Nigel Griffiths: Thank you, I have got that. Is there a single mention in this Report of speed cameras?
Ms Barker: No.
Q96 Nigel Griffiths: It is one of the three most important things you tell me; why is there not a single mention of speed cameras in this Report, Improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists?
Mr Devereux: It is not my Report.
Q97 Nigel Griffiths: Who is going to take responsibility, who is going to answer that question?
Ms Barker: We have covered the initiatives in broad detail in the demonstration projects that we covered. We were looking specifically at projects that examined pedestrian and cyclist safety rather than general measures such as speed cameras.
Q98 Nigel Griffiths: This is a poor Report, time-warped some 20 or 30 years ago with a general belief that the public is hostile to anything that curbs car users and does not like cyclists and motorcyclists either. I believe that is fundamentally wrong, as it happens, and what concerns me is if you do not know about what the Lothian and Borders Police working with the local council have achieved, which showcase councils are there? I am astonished that that is not in this report since it is a GB report. I am astonished that after five years, no child deaths, and it was only broken by two people who have now gone to jail for a terrible accident on the edge of my constituency, but what we need from these reports if we are going to learn the lessons is perhaps less research and more action on the basis of councils and authorities with a proven track record, would you not agree?
Mr Devereux: Can I just help the NAO? I did not write the Report; if you ask the Department what is high on the list of things that clearly work we have already touched on speed and I perfectly understand that it works, it is central to the strategy that we have just launched. It is central to that for the reasons I have explained.
Q99 Nigel Griffiths: That may be the case, Mr Devereux, and you have had an unfairly tough time but you have handled yourself well. However, you and your road safety expert should have made sure it was in the Report because you jointly signed it off, I will leave it at that.
Mr Devereux: I signed off as to its accuracy rather than as to its completeness. That is quite important,
Q100 Nigel Griffiths: Let us look at local authority funding. You mentioned a figure of £600 million.
Mr Devereux: Yes.
Q101 Nigel Griffiths: What is that for?
Mr Devereux: The Government pays quite a lot of different portions of money to local government and the £600 million refers to a thing we call the "integrated transport block" so this is money which is provided to local government specifically for things to improve transport, of which one is safety. It is different from the money we give them for road maintenance.
Q102 Nigel Griffiths: And the £120 million?
Mr Devereux: I said it was £110 million actually. That is the road safety grant which is the money which used to be used locally by keeping fines from speed cameras. The fines now go to the Treasury and the Department pays money to individual authorities, so we are spending £600 million on the integrated transport block, some of which goes on road safety, and £110 million which does go on safety.
Q103 Nigel Griffiths: That £110 million now funds speed cameras, speed humps and 20 mph zones.
Mr Devereux: It funds whatever the local safety partnership thinks is the best use of the money.
Q104 Nigel Griffiths: We know from your road safety expert that speed cameras, speed humps and 20 mph zones are very effective. Why are you allowing councils to spend money on other things? What is more effective than those three that they should be spending money on?
Mr Devereux: Possibly reducing the speed limit on rural roads if you are a rural county.
Q105 Nigel Griffiths: I accept that. In an urban area?
Mr Devereux: In an urban area you might like to produce safe routes to cycle to school, you might like to train people to do cycling training.
Q106 Nigel Griffiths: How effective is the cycling training as against those three measures: speed cameras, speed humps and 20 mph zones?
Mr Devereux: There is a double benefit from training people to use cycles ---
Q107 Nigel Griffiths: I want to check on the objective. What do the statistics tell us - £1 spent on a speed camera, £1 spent on training a child?
Mr Devereux: I do not have that calculation because the £1 spent on the speed camera immediately gets some results in that particular area; £1 spent on a child who might then through the rest of their life cycle as opposed to not cycle would mean you have a child which is probably less obese and probably producing better things for transport, so they are different calculations.
Q108 Nigel Griffiths: "Might" is your qualifying word and that is really what we need to do some research to draw out. Are all the councils required to spend that proportion of £120 million on road safety measures?
Mr Devereux: It has become one of the so-called "area grants". What that basically means is that we put it in with an expectation on our part as to what they will do, but the general relationship which government has now arrived at with local government is not to tie them up with endless packets of different money, but to give them some choice, so at the margins they could take this money and spend it on something else. The evidence is that because quite a lot of them take it seriously they do spend it on road safety things.
Q109 Nigel Griffiths: But it is their choice as to whether they spend money that might save the lives of our children.
Mr Devereux: It is their choice because that is the way we configure local government in this country.
Q110 Nigel Griffiths: I take a different view I have to say.
Mr Devereux: I might share that view but it is not the way it is.
Q111 Nigel Griffiths: I hope you will be advising your ministers accordingly.
Mr Devereux: It is a different department I am afraid.
Q112 Nigel Griffiths: Is there a shred of evidence in this report that carelessness or reckless riding by bikers or cyclists is responsible for the majority of their accidents?
Mr Devereux: No.
Q113 Nigel Griffiths: Does that mean that the evidence really points to careless car drivers and commercial vehicle drivers ---
Mr Devereux: No, it does not, because you asked me the question is there a shred of evidence in the Report that points to it and there is no evidence in the Report. I have already acknowledged that I do not know the answer to the question in absolute terms, is it correct.
Q114 Nigel Griffiths: Is there evidence in the Report that it is carelessness or recklessness by other road users that causes the majority of the accidents to bikers and cyclists?
Mr Devereux: I am fairly sure that that will be the truth, I am not going to say whether it is in the Report.
Nigel Griffiths: So any notion from further questioning by other members of the Committee that these people are all somehow responsible for their own accidents is really a myth and damaging.
Mr Curry: We were not suggesting that.
Mr Bacon: Who was saying that, because I certainly was not?
Chairman: Let us not have a spat between us.
Nigel Griffiths: We will have the transcript.
Chairman: Everybody is responsible for their own questions.
Q115 Nigel Griffiths: And then we will have the conclusion of the Report because I happen to think cycling is good and the vast majority of cyclists and bikers are perfectly responsible. To tarnish them with some of the examples given and imply that that is the majority is a very bad mistake. Responding to the conclusions of the Report, where I thought the Report seemed technically weak was in arguing almost for more research and less action and until we get interventionist action of the type that we have seen in Edinburgh then I do not think that we will get to the sort of zero figures that are attainable. I say that having read the Report because the statistics are creditable. The trends have been rather good; it is just having seen in my own area covering almost a million people no child death on the roads for five years, you can imagine my frustration and I am sure the frustration of my colleagues that there are still child deaths around the country, and we want to research them instead of it backing - as I hope that this Committee will do - the need for the use of speed cameras, speed humps and 20 mph zones. Do you think these are the most effective ways of curbing child deaths on the road?
Mr Devereux: The most effective thing is certainly to limit the speed of vehicles in areas where people are on the roads as pedestrians or cyclists. Whether you do that through speed cameras or speed humps or the geometry of the road I am afraid is a local decision, so I would rather not be signed up to the conclusion that the speed of vehicles which weigh a lot crashing into human bodies which do not - that is a fairly self-evident thing to target.
Q116 Nigel Griffiths: If I might finally recommend to the Comptroller and Auditor General, when the Report is next reviewed and published perhaps the pictures might show a 20 mph zone rather than a 30 mph speed limit being encouraged, it might show speed humps in a favourable light and it might show speed cameras as well. In fact I hope it mentions them next time.
Chairman: Thank you. There are one or two supplementaries. Mr Bacon.
Q117 Mr Bacon: Very quickly could I ask Geraldine Barker about page 28 where in the third bullet it refers to several challenges including "the lack of priority afforded to road safety by some organisations". Which organisations were you referring to there?
Ms Barker: It is a general comment about organisations, both in
Q118 Mr Bacon: Which organisations?
Ms Barker: I would have to look back. We consulted a wide number of organisations.
Q119 Mr Bacon: It is quite an important sentence. It looks to me as though it has been edited downwards to make it a bit softer.
Ms Barker: No, I do not think so.
Q120 Mr Bacon: I would expect the white fish authority (if there is one) not to consider road safety as one of its greatest priorities because it is thinking of other things. Is that what you mean, or do you mean organisations that should be considering road safety like children's services in county councils, say, that are not doing so?
Ms Barker: Certainly those working within local authorities are having to persuade their colleagues in children's services and other areas to raise the road safety agenda, so that would be a good example.
Mr Morse: If I may supplement that answer, as you can see in the Report only a third of local authorities have in fact adopted road safety targets out of the choice of targets available and that is quite significant, so fighting for priority is an issue that is reasonably raised. What we are primarily looking at here is the function of the Department in relation to road safety, not what should be done on the ground, so it is not really for us to address that. What we need to talk about is the functionality of the Department.
Q121 Chairman: The Auditor General makes that point but there is a question I wanted to ask you: how can we encourage a wider uptake? Why do only a third of local authorities have a road safety target; how can we encourage a wider uptake?
Mr Devereux: Let me just go back to the way in which we do the interaction with local government. We have managed to reduce very substantially, to of the order of 180, the number of indicators which every local government will report on. We have invited them to choose 30 of those which are local priorities because locally they are most important. I can hypothesise that there are some well-performing councils who have good road safety for whom that is not the best use of 30 targets, they should be targeting drugs, they should be worrying about education and something else. The fact that you have not chosen it as a target should not be read as you are very bad at road safety, that is a mistake, because by and large a good government is quite good at working out what is important. We have positively encouraged those people who we regard as having poor performance to put it on the list.
Q122 Mr Bacon: Mr Griffiths' point is that there is stellar performance in one place. I understand your point about reducing the 180 targets but in paragraph 1.29 at page 18 I was quite shocked about the menu that they can choose from, up to 35 indicators of which two are road safety targets. If it is the case that there is stellar performance in one place that could be copied and if it is the case that road safety matters everywhere - and presumably it is the case that there are not huge variations in the degree of road safety between different regions in the country that are receiving the grant - then surely it ought to be a priority everywhere.
Mr Devereux: In this hearing I cannot but agree with you. On the ground, in local government, local councillors are making judgments as to what is the most important thing in their area and I can conceive that, for example, if you are tackling deprivation, road safety is highly correlated with deprivation. It might be that tackling the deprivation is a good way of doing that and therefore they are using indicators to do with social housing, children being looked after in after school clubs. I can see people making rational choices, however much we all think the right answer is surely this is the only thing which everybody must do, and that is not the way local government up and down the country had chosen to do it. Given that some of them may well be good at it and it is not a priority for that reason, what we should all be interested in is those people who are not good at it and have not made it a priority, and actually they have made a poor choice. We put quite a bit of effort with our colleagues across government in trying to get to the right choice of 30 which both central government and local government can sign up to. It is quite a complicated process.
Chairman: There are one or two more questions. Geraldine Smith.
Q123 Geraldine Smith: I just think this is a really important point that Mr Griffiths raised about a scheme that has been shown to be successful, that has saved lives quite definitely. If you were not aware of it how do you expect local councillors to be aware of it when they are making decisions about what projects they should go for? If you are so clear and it is a fact that it does save lives if we can reduce speed, then these 20 mph zones and the other measures should be somehow incentivised. I appreciate what you say, that you cannot force local councils to do things, but if you did not even know that information - and I did not know it until Mr Griffiths raised it - then how are those councils to know all about it?
Mr Devereux: I have identified that we know that this works. I personally was not aware of that particular example but I do hope that, it being a smallish area, those five years last forever but you have just said that because of one particular accident you now have some child deaths. It is a bumpy series, small children deaths, I am afraid, and you will find periods when people get through five years and it is good. I am really pleased that that is the position there; the reality is, as I said before, speed is a really important thing if you are talking about child deaths on roads and measures to control it are appropriate. What I am doing to incentivise it, I am making that perfectly plain to people, I am spending quite a lot of money and disseminating the information and I have provided part of a local government target metric which actually has child deaths and serious injuries as one of the things which everybody is reporting on. The Audit Commission is seeing everyone and so are we; the question is making sure people are targeting it if it is a problem for them.
Mr Curry: Just a point for Mr Griffiths, as I interpret the front cover of this it shows traffic stopped at a traffic light, pedestrians trying to cross the road and a cyclist scything through.
Nigel Griffiths: I rest my case about the portrayal of cyclists.
Curry: I am always interested in what other
countries do which is effective. Can
I draw your attention like Mr Griffiths did to an experiment,, but this
time it is in
Mr Devereux: It literally means what it says on the tin, "Think! Bike". "Think! Bike" means do not be blind to the fact that a motorcyclist is one of the things that by and large car drivers do not see when you pull out and you are looking for other cars.
Mr Curry: Why did it not say "Beware of motorcyclists"? Why not use English and say "Beware of motorcyclists" or "Beware of cyclists"?
Nigel Griffiths: We are coming up to date here, not going back 50 years.
Q125 Mr Curry: Why did it not say it in language which those of us brought up to have subjects, verbs and objects in our language understand?
Mr Devereux: I am not going to hypothesise about what the average educational achievement is as opposed to those with ---
Mr Curry: The average education can manage a three word sentence which says "Beware of motorcyclists."
Q126 Nigel Griffiths: We have got the message. I just want to say, and I should have said it in my contribution, some of the road safety adverts, especially those with a child and what has happened to them are absolutely stunning.
Mr Devereux: Thank you.
Q127 Chairman: We have not asked you much if at all about the Think! campaign which you spend £17.6 million from your £36 million publicity budget on. The Think! campaign is obviously quite important but is it value for money? It seems from this Report at paragraphs 2.17 and 2.18 that you cannot actually demonstrate any link with reducing causalities.
Mr Devereux: I signed this Report off on the basis that that is factually correct. I cannot tell you that educating people will at the margins change a particular casualty but I referred to it earlier so perhaps you will let me tell you now. When drink driving was introduced as an offence in 1968 it was accompanied by a huge amount of publicity and deaths fell from 1640 in 1967 to 1152 in 1968, so overnight a huge improvement. In the subsequent seven years there was no publicity campaign, no publicity at all, and the percentage of crashes in which alcohol was a factor rose from 15% to 35%. Since we started doing the Think! campaign we actually managed to produce a downward trend of over 72% in deaths and the number of people admitting to driving with a drink inside them has fallen from 51% in 1979 to 17% today. The implication of all of that, and it is not a hard fact, is that one of the reasons people crash is because they are doing crazy behaviours and I have got to get in their head, not just design their vehicle and design their road and put in speed limits.
Q128 Chairman: That is a perfectly fair answer. Do you think you have a lack of direct levers? We have given you quite a hard time this afternoon but really you have a limited budget and the responsibility as we have heard lies with local authorities. Are you basically a good research unit providing support to the front line?
Mr Devereux: We are more than that. The
fact that there is such disparate performance across local government does not
make me feel warm that if I just left it to local government it would happen
anyway. What are we bringing to the
party? We are bringing to the party an
oversight of the whole thing, the setting of a strategy, the setting of
targets. We are basically the principal
funder, it is taxpayers' money that is being spent even if it is being spent by
a local government. We are the ones
running the national publicity campaigns and we are the ones who are best able
to do national research. We are
likewise, I am afraid, the people in
Chairman: Thank you very much; that concludes our hearing. We have got to underline that Britain is one of the safest countries in the world in terms of road deaths so we give you that; it is just that we have a particular problem with road safety for pedestrians and cyclists and of course children, so we hope that our hearing will have made a difference in a positive way. We are very grateful to you, thank you.