|Adam Price AC|
|David J. Rowlands AC|
|Joyce Watson AC|
|Lee Waters AC|
|Mark Isherwood AC|
|Russell George AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Vikki Howells AC|
|Nick Jones||Comisiynydd Traffig dros Gymru|
|Traffic Commissioner for Wales|
|Robert Lloyd-Williams||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Adroddiad Blynyddol—Comisiynydd Traffig Cymru||2. Annual Report—Traffic Commissioner for Wales|
|3. Papurau i'w nodi||3. Papers to note|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle y mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.
The meeting began at 09:30.
Croeso, bawb, i Bwyllgor yr Economi, Seilwaith a Sgiliau.
Welcome, everyone, to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.
I'd like to welcome you all to the meeting this morning. I move to item 1, and I'd like to welcome, as new members to the committee, Lee Waters and Joyce Watson. Also, I'd like to just say that Hefin David will be missing the first session, but he will be joining us later on.
Item 2 is in regard to our annual scrutiny of the Traffic Commissioner for Wales, and I'd like to welcome Nick Jones to our meeting this morning. I will say that there will be a transcript of proceedings made available to you after, if you want to have a look over that and let us know if there are any comments following the meeting. Would you like to make any opening remarks, Nick, or can I perhaps just ask you to tell us what you think has gone well this year, in your first year?
The positive things about this year are that I've been able to establish good relations with officers and develop those relationships, because until I'd been full-time commissioner for Wales, it had been difficult to meet them because of commitments in respect of the west midlands. I've also been pleasantly surprised at the ease with which Government officials have allowed me to meet with organisations that are not necessarily Welsh Government, but funded by the Welsh Government, which, I think, in the long term, will assist.
Since I last gave evidence, I think there have been more examiners appointed, and I think that, in part, may be a result of the comments I made in previous annual reports about road safety issues. And, so, there are now more examiners in north Wales, mid Wales and south Wales. Although it's a matter of training them and developing them, it is beginning to show through hearings. There are parts of Wales where operators previously never came to the attention of the traffic commissioner, and they are now. That's not all bad. Sometimes, it's good as well, in terms of education, but there are a number of positive features, and I'm developing a liaison with a number of organisations.
And what are the areas that you haven't been able to achieve, the less positive areas?
There are two significant areas, and they have quite an impact. First of all, I don't have staff and I don't have an office. The idea was that I would have an office with bilingual staff. The decision was made originally to have an office in Cardiff with bilingual staff, and I was assured, 'Yes, of course, you can recruit bilingual staff in the Cardiff area.' But the experience has shown that despite going through the civil service recruitment round, going externally, and going through websites recommended by the human resources specialist within the Welsh language commission—I took specialist advice—we haven't been able to recruit. What I suspect is the case is that, within the public sector in Cardiff, the Welsh Assembly, the Welsh Government, the BBC and the other public institutions have—forgive the vernacular—nabbed a lot of the good Welsh speakers. And, yes, there are Welsh speakers, but it looks like, if I'm going to establish an office, it might be easier doing it in north Wales, where there are far more Welsh speakers. It has its own logistical problems because the benefit of being in Cardiff is that it's easier to communicate with you and the Welsh Government. But, in principle, the answer may well be to have an office in the north Wales area instead.
In that you mentioned bilingual staff and the issues of recruiting bilingual staff, is that a reason for not having your report published bilingually?
Yes. There is a memorandum of understanding setting out the relationship, and I had an input into that MOU, and at my request it includes a requirement that the report be bilingual. It's not bilingual because I don't have the staff to do that.
I don't have a translation service as such. When I approached your officers in terms of publishing this, there was a discussion about where this is published, because there is no formal forum to publish the report. Fortunately, you've published it, so it is now going to be available to the general public.
It seems unusual that there's no forum to publish a report. Surely, there must be some mechanism.
I fall between various stools, frankly, because the traffic commissioner is appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport, so I come under the Department for Transport, but it's the Welsh Government that is providing an element of subsidy so that there's a full-time Traffic Commissioner for Wales, and what we have is, what I hope is, a temporary position whereby you have me without support staff and without a base. I'm not able to do things that I would expect to do with even the most basic support staff.
With regard to translation, though, there are companies that offer translation services that can translate from English into Welsh.
Yes. In terms of asking for help and doing things, can I say that I have a laptop in the room, which is the waiting room, and I deal with electronic submissions? Those submissions may come from Leeds, from Bristol, from Birmingham and a variety of venues. In fact, they may come from elsewhere in England as well. Because the team that was dealing with Wales have known that their jobs are going to go, things have happened within the organisation, so hearings for the public inquiries and so on are being covered by staff who are not necessarily dedicated staff for Wales, and that's part of the problem. So, there are gaps.
Yes. I've got some other questions, but are there any other Members who want to jump in? Lee, you look like you want to come in.
I think your report is very stimulating and interesting, and I want to get into a positive discussion around it, but this isn't a very good start. I do find it slightly flabbergasting that, in the capital of Wales, which has the largest number of Welsh speakers in our country, you can't find staff. And the inability to contract out translation is pretty basic.
I don't employ staff. The staff are employed by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. So, I personally don't put the adverts out and I don't recruit staff. I agree that it's very disappointing. There are people, who previously worked in other public sector organisations, who suggested that Cardiff might be difficult, and I thought, 'No, surely', because I shared your view that it ought to be easy to recruit. Whether it's the salary grade, I don't know. Although, I know that the grades across the traffic commissioner offices may be a problem, because I know that there are difficulties with recruitment in Bristol, Leeds and in other offices, so it may be a question of grades.
I don't think it matters if it's in north Wales—there's some advantage to having it in north Wales to spread the jobs around—but you just need to get on with it. We've been hearing about creating this post for so long and here you are a year in without any staff, and the inability to e-mail your report to a translator does leave me slightly short of words.
I'm grateful for you sharing my frustration. I'm working completely by myself, effectively. There are support staff in the different offices in England, but until there's an office with support staff, there's a problem. In theory, someone could second staff, but I'm just conscious that there are issues relating to head counts and so on, so that would create difficulties.
Three at executive officer level and that is, I understand, at about the mid £20,000 level. The equivalent staff in England were, in fact, at clerical officer level and there would be a line manager from England to cover that, to assist, but the idea is that just recruiting three executive officer staff who are fully bilingual has proved difficult in Cardiff. As well as going through—. It's not for me to do the recruitment.
It's the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, but in fairness to them, I sought advice from the Welsh Language Commissioner and spoke to the human resources leads in the Welsh Language Commissioner's office who suggested the use of specific websites, and so, a number of campaigns have taken place, not just internally, but externally as well. Although people may have shown an initial interest, by the time it has come to the interview, it's fizzled out into nothing.
So, this proposal, this alternative then, of locating the office in, I think you said in your report, north-west Wales—as Lee Waters said, I think decentralising public sector jobs out of Cardiff is a very good idea, and it's shared by the Welsh Government. So, what's going to happen next, then? Have you made that decision? Is that now in train? Are you looking for an office in the north-west, or even in the west?
It's only within working days, it's very recent, that there was the realisation that there are no staff who are available in the Cardiff area. So, I've been communicating over the last week or so with the Welsh Government officials. So, if you're saying: what has happened? The answer is that, of the Welsh Government officials I've spoken to, I understand that they're sympathetic and they're looking at potential sites in north Wales. Clearly, there's this issue of cost and where, and it would ideally need to be near a network, so that people can travel from other parts of Wales as well.
I should say that, a number of years ago, well before the MOU was set up, having the office in Cardiff, I did at the time say in a separate report within Department for Transport and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency that, actually, if there was an office, one of the options would be to have it in the arc between, say, Caernarfon and Bangor where, perhaps, there are more Welsh speakers and it would probably be easier to recruit. But the advantage was felt to be that, well, if it's in Cardiff, you're nearer the Government.
We'd better move on. I'm so sorry. But just to clarify, the recruitment issue, is it simply a lack of being able to—? Is it an issue with recruiting? Is it a funding issue? Is it a lack of support from Welsh Government or any other—?
Recruiting. From what I can gather, it's a recruiting issue.
There's a memorandum of understanding between the Welsh Government and the Department for Transport. So, is it that that's perhaps not sufficient?
In fairness to the Welsh Government, the equivalent staff in England are paid at clerical division, and I suggested that it might be helpful to—. I suspect there's an issue about whether they should be at the top of the clerical division and whether they should move into the executive officer level, which is a matter of a few thousand more. And so the Welsh Government agreed that they would be paid at the executive officer level, and they'd been through the necessary HR—I think they call it 'JEGSing'—analysis, and they've agreed that it would be appropriate to be at the executive officer level. So, it is a slightly higher rate than some parts of England, but they still haven't been able to recruit.
Okay. And finally from me, on that memorandum of understanding, is there anything else that perhaps, in your view, isn't working correctly and that memorandum isn't sufficient?
In fairness, the memorandum of understanding gives protections to the Welsh Government and is appropriate. The practical problem is getting the traffic commissioner to have an office, with staff, as soon as possible.
That's all right. That's fine. I was moving on beyond the office. My question was: the memorandum of understanding, is that the correct function for you to be able to your job?
Yes, it's not a problem. I've no doubt that it'll be reviewed, as such things are, but, in my view, the memorandum of understanding is a document that is fit for purpose, if that's your question.
Right, thank you. That's fine. That's answered the question. Joyce Watson.
Good morning. Talking about purpose, I see that you mention a pan-Wales forum for bus and haulage industries and that you're trying to establish that. Have you managed to establish that?
Yes. It's not the case that I've sat on my hands doing nothing. It doesn't need other staff to achieve that. It's very early days, but there is a forum. It's called itself the Wales road transport advisory group, and it consists—. I'm pleased that it includes both the haulage and the public service vehicle industries. So, the Road Haulage Association are involved, the Freight Transport Association are involved, the Confederation of Passenger Transport are involved. I think, importantly, the two police commercial vehicle units are involved, because there are separate police commercial unit vehicles, in north Wales and south Wales, and they actually have a valuable role.
The Welsh Government have provided support. The administrative support, it was agreed, will be provided by the Freight Transport Association. Well, that's fine, because I don't actually have to do the work. I merely attend and I facilitate. We had meetings to discuss what the constitution should be and then had an inaugural meeting. What we have done, at my request, or my insistence, is agreed that the meetings need to alternate between north Wales and south Wales. My experience of the various industries is that, very often, they'll have meetings in north Wales where people from south Wales don't go, and often, for some of the industries, north Wales is administered from the north-west of England. And in the case of south Wales, people from north Wales don't attend. So, I've been urging a pan-Wales body. At the moment, it'll be twice a year. If it needs to meet more often, then fine. It's really dealing with issues relating to strategy, and then there may well be other bodies that would be involved. The equivalent of Highways England, clearly, could make a contribution, because I know that the DVSA would welcome closer contact. There are potential opportunities for real benefits with a strategic group just discussing matters and communicating.
What are you hoping will be the outcome of this group, apart from discussion? What will the discussions, you hope, produce?
Better mutual understanding. I am aware that, in some parts of England, not all of them, they've had maintenance advisory committees. In fact, when I was traffic commissioner for Wales and the west midlands, there was a body called the maintenance advisory committee for both the west midlands and Wales. It met near Birmingham, near the National Exhibition Centre, and it discussed issues relating to maintenance, and if there were particular problems relating to the road networks that affected heavy lorries and buses. Those are matters that will concern both industries, and there are real benefits in—. If you look at minutes of meetings—I've got no problem showing you the minutes of some of the meetings—you might typically have the DVSA describing what sort of matters they're encountering and issues from the industries, telling the DVSA what sort of issues arise. The police are also able to contribute. I know in the past when the meetings were held in England and Highways England was involved it was a very useful source of exchange of information and advice, because you had senior people from the respective industries who were inputting into other organisations.
So, I know that the FTA, who provide the secretariat for this group, would like it to be more strategic thinking. Don't misunderstand, I have a limit to my jurisdiction, and as a traffic commissioner, I would like to facilitate getting people talking to one another, and there have been a number of instances where different organisations have said, 'Do you mind setting up meetings with x and y, because there could be a number of benefits?' In fact, I know that, when I have the staff, which I hope I'll get relatively soon—some things can be done perhaps even before I get the staff—I can set up other bilateral meetings with a number of organisations, because an effective full-time traffic commissioner in Wales should be able to make, in my view, significant improvements across a range of areas.
Thank you. I'd just like to ask about devolution of powers. As I said at the beginning, I found your paper very stimulating, so thank you. I think it's a very useful paper and I think it's excellent that you're prepared to provoke policy questions for us to consider. So, I think it's a very helpful annual report.
But I was asked not to—I'm not promoting anything, but I'm actually putting out that you have the potential to do things, but it's your decision.
Absolutely. It's very helpful. There are a number of things I'd like to touch on. I'm conscious of the time, so I'll try and rattle through them. First of all, you report a fairly depressing decline in bus passenger numbers—a 19 per cent decline between 2004 and 2016. Do you think that the devolution of powers to Wales could have some opportunities to improve bus patronage, and what should we be thinking of, in those terms?
The short answer is 'yes', by more effective targeted regulation, and it's about elements of subsidy. The traffic commissioner doesn't determine which buses run. Before deregulation in 1985, a traffic commissioner had a role in deciding whether bus services were required or not, and that's very much a political matter for local authorities to decide, with degrees of subsidy. So, in terms of increasing patronage, my liaison with the passenger groups has made it clear that buses running to time is important, buses being safe, and of course, if you're going to increase patronage, you also want to make sure there are buses in areas that people can use. So, there are issues relating to rural areas and connectivity and so on. So, more effective regulation can improve it in a number of ways.
Okay. Well, perhaps we'll return to that. You do suggest a number of tidying-up exercises, if I can call them that, that you think that devolution offers the opportunity to do. You say that you have a postbox function, simply by historical accident, about registering bus services, and you suggest that could be taken off you to make it more efficient. You also suggest, in terms of taxi and private hire law, that there's a more efficient way for that to be done, and on Disclosure and Barring Service checks you suggest a new pan-Wales body. Do you want to say a little bit about those and how you think the new arrangements might work?
Well, the last one, the DBS checks, is something that I mooted with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the bus industry, and I also raised it with the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers, the local authorities. And they seemed to be, around the table, saying, 'Oh, yes, we agree with that, therefore let's write to the Welsh Government or the Welsh Assembly.' I said, 'Well, hang on a minute—I'm just saying it in theory. It's the sort of thing that could happen.' I'm very conscious that because I need to listen to industry to know what their concerns are, I'm just aware that it does seem rather daft—and this applies in England; it's not just an issue about Wales, and this is an opportunity for Wales to do something better than England—that if a bus operator or a taxi operator works across a number of local authority areas, they've got different DBS checks for exactly the same type of work, and sometimes there are inconsistencies. So, it's expensive, it's bureaucratic and it's unnecessary red tape. I've got nothing against regulation that is appropriate, proportionate, necessary, and serves a purpose and improves road safety, but there is a potential for doing things more efficiently and providing better standards of safety for the travelling public.
Indeed, and it's a very constructive suggestion, and you say a few times:
'Devolution provides an opportunity for reform...Wales could lead the way on this.'
Do you have any template in mind that could help the committee to think about a better arrangement?
I suspect that the minutiae of it is a matter for discussing with your officers and officials. When I've raised the point, there's no-one who's said, 'No, that doesn't sound a very sensible idea', but it does take people—. You've got to want to do it. I would say one's got to be aware of the fact that the conducting of DBS checks is a reserved matter, it's not devolved, but that's not a problem if you said, 'Well, okay, it's not devolved', but rather than going to local authorities, you just make sure that, separately, you decide internally that there's an appeal body—it could be the traffic commissioner, or it could be someone else if you wanted it to be.
There was one suggestion that came out of the workshops. One of the things that has happened in the year I'd been a traffic commissioner is a lot of workshops, after the bus summit, listening to industry. One of the comments that came out—and I didn't have this idea; listening, active listening does have benefits—was that, well, if in fact you're going to be more innovative over the bus service support grant, perhaps you could say, 'Well, you only get your bus service support grant if drivers have had their DBS checks.' Well, if it affects people's money and their income, they're more likely to do it. So, there are all sorts of areas where that can—.
Yes, that's fine. There's another section you want to lead on as well, isn't there, Adam? Come on to that, that's fine.
Yes. You talk a little bit about the financial pressures on the industry. Could you say a little bit more about that and what proportion of companies you think are in peril at the moment, based on your overview of the industry through your discussions with the Confederation of Passenger Transport and others?
Because I'm full-time in Wales, I'm able to engage more with industry—and it may well be that there are similar problems in England. However, the profile of the typical operator in Wales is different because there are more family businesses and the average size of an operator is much smaller. What I would say is that, clearly, each operator must have the necessary financial standing. It's one of the requirements to have an operator's licence.
One of the outcomes of the—. We've had eight workshops after the bus summit, which was held in January. The information is being collated at the moment, and I'm assisting with that. One of the outcomes is a suggestion that there be more in relation to finance. I know that there are plans to have further workshops for the public service vehicle industry or for those who register services and have school contracts. The benefit for me is that I don't have to write to operators because I don't have the resources to do that and identify them, but the local authorities have that information and the Welsh Government is clearly doing the donkey work.
There are going to be workshops in January and February—that's the plan. In the morning, they'll be hearing from me and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency about compliance and improving standards, including safety standards, to comply with the law. In the afternoon, Business Wales will have quite an input, because I've been working with Business Wales as well. That's what I found particularly interesting. They are going to be giving specialist advice on tendering. They're also going to give specialist advice with external speakers in relation to the way they run the business in relation to contracts of employment and some specialist human resources advice, with offers—I think they're going to offer to go into individual firms, if necessary.
I see that is something that—. I know it hasn't been done in England. I think this will be the first time such a thing has been done. It's about targeting the registered services and the people who have school contracts to improve the standards, both of road safety and issues relating to finance, which I think is sensible. There are other areas that need work. I can talk about parts of the haulage industry and so on, but it's clearly been identified that that's an area where some work is needed.
So, there's a different structure to the bus sector in Wales, and some further positive help is going to be provided to them, which is good to hear—
Yes. And can I say that Welsh Government officials have been exceptionally helpful? It's clear that they are really wanting to provide support for the bus sector.
In your report, you refer to possibly a source of some of the financial problems that particularly some of the family-owned firms that you referred to are experiencing. It's partly to do with the kind of contracting behaviour or frameworks that are employed by local authorities, and you refer to a kind of race-to-the-bottom approach with price being the only determining factor. Could you say a little bit more about that?
I undertook the research after discussing with the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers. That's the local authority officers who procure contracts and services. In the discussions, they agreed that there were considerable inconsistencies. And with their support—and I'm grateful for their support—I conducted a survey of all 22 local authorities. To illustrate the point earlier about resources, I drafted the letter and it was ATCO that communicated to their members. But they sent information to me, and I looked at the information and it transpired that there are a number of concerns.
Some authorities said, 'We don't really have the resources to do this as well as we could do', and other authorities said, 'Well, we do it more effectively by co-operating with other authorities and working on a consortia basis or by co-operating with neighbours on a regional basis.' But it also was clear, from talking to the officials involved, that they would, frankly, welcome an element of steer. Now, it's not for me as the traffic commissioner to say how an individual contract is dealt with; it's a governance matter between the Welsh Government and local authorities. But I am pointing out that some local authorities have—where they feel that they've had budget cuts—said, 'Well, therefore, we must just go for the lowest price.' And my point is, if that's the route you're going to go down, you should have an expectation that you will have problems and you will actually drive out the good operator.
Part of the training on tendering will be, 'Do not tender at a level where you know you're making a loss, because you're not going going to get any sympathy from the traffic commissioner.' I mean, I clearly want to provide support, but if people are going to tender at a level where they're not going to take your children safely to schools and so on—well, they shouldn't be tendering. Now, many operators decided, 'Well, that's the reason why I'm not tendering.' And that's one of the reasons why the reverse auctions—they're online auctions where the cheapest bidder gets the contract—have actually created problems. And in the example I gave—. I gave the example because it was a case that had quite a bit of publicity and it was, in hindsight, a classic case where perhaps if there'd been a traffic commissioner full-time in the past—if I'd been here earlier—then, in fact, it might have been spotted. But it was the area manager for the DVSA who told me that, in the well-publicised case in north Wales, between 10 and 12 decent family businesses, which weren't a matter of particular concern to the DVSA, actually went under.
Just a few months ago, I dealt with an operator who had some difficulties, and that operator said, 'Well, I didn't go under but I contracted considerably.' It now wants to grow, as it were. I see my role as helping nurture those operators as well. But the practice of just going for the lowest price will not help the people of Wales. It's a short-term issue. It's a bit like saying to someone, 'We're going to save money by not ever training anyone.' Well, you can save some money for a few months doing that, but you've got a problem if you don't comply—if, in fact, money is the only criteria.
I find this evidence fascinating and it proves the worth of having a traffic commissioner for Wales, really. So, there are clearly some policy implications here in terms of the framework by which local authorities—
Sometimes, it's a matter of who decides, because in some areas they are quite slow to get responses, because in some areas it's the procurement team that deal with these matters rather than someone who knows about transport. I've got to be careful here. Sometimes there's quite a—. There's a delay in some instances in getting responses. I'm not wanting to name any individuals; that wouldn't be helpful at all. Some authorities said, 'Yes, you had a delay because I, Mr Bloggs, have been ill and there wasn't someone else to cover.' It illustrates the weakness there. So, working on a consortium basis, a regional basis, can clearly have efficiencies here. Yes, you want to have local knowledge, but if you've got 22 authorities doing their own thing and they've all got different financial constraints, you've basically got different standards.
Some authorities came up with some very novel ideas, and that's one of the points of listening and communicating and asking authorities to discuss with one another. I think it was Rhondda Cynon Taf where they said they could—they saved a decent percentage on one year by the way that they tendered, which ensured that there was backfilling of routes. So, rather than tendering each route individually, the way they designed the tendering process was more intelligent, and therefore it could produce better value for money and free up moneys for other purposes, for the local taxpayer. So, I'm not claiming that I have the formula that instantly provides the optimum value for money; what I'm saying is that those who work on a co-operative basis seem to achieve more, if they listen, with neighbours, and those who just go on price are on a slippery slope.
Just finally, have you had the opportunity to discuss the implications of what you've just told us with the Welsh Government?
Yes. This is in the annual report and it's very interesting. Part of the discussions that I see—. The memorandum of understanding has provided for a full-time commissioner, so rather than spending, say, half my time sitting in public inquiries and driver conduct hearings, granting licences, revoking them and writing up the decisions, it allows me more time to engage. So, I've raised this with the Welsh Government. Clearly, people need to make decisions as to how they want to move this forward. I know a number of options arise. I want to be careful that I'm not someone who comes up and says, 'You can only do this in this particular way'; there are a number of ways to resolve this.
Just briefly, could you summarise the options for us that arise in terms of changing the policy framework?
It could be that you'd need simple guidance from the centre, but it could be that some authorities say, 'Well, thank you very much for the guidance, we're going to do our own thing, anyway', and it's a matter of how prescriptive you're going to be. The options also include whether you're going to require local authorities to not base contracts solely on the—. You know, it's about how directive you—the Government or the Assembly—are going to be in terms of how the local authorities achieve matters. You've got 22 authorities. Some work by themselves. Most work in partnership with neighbouring authorities. Some of the partnerships work well and some don't work as well.
It's about communication, and that's where I see my role in trying to help.
Nick, you mentioned a survey in relation to ATCO. Can you send us a copy of that survey?
All I've got is the raw data. What I asked for—
I just had a few notes, and it's very crude. I did no more than anyone who makes a freedom of information request would do—
It hasn't been analysed by someone from the Welsh Government. It was me conducting a cursory look and I'll gladly give about two feet of paperwork to someone in the Welsh Government to do an analysis. It's just my interpretation, because I skim-read the very—. Some authorities have thin documents and some thick—
No-one's contradicted what I've said, because it seems that ATCO was saying, 'Yes, it's true'.
In terms of financial pressures and local bus and passenger service design, what engagement do you have with bodies such as the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, which obviously is factoring predominantly upon transport within the region and across the border, in the context of your pan-Wales approach and the need to take a national strategic role alongside those regional imperatives?
You've referred to the need to design local passenger services that reflect local need, rather than simply have them imposed. The last time I attended a local consultation event on bus services in a community, the community was presented with the one option the council decided to consult them on—take it or leave it. So, in the context of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, particularly, how do you believe we should be consulting with communities in order to design the solutions best available within the resources we have?
And, finally, does consideration of the wider multiplier economic and social benefits of bus and passenger services fall within your remit? I recently visited a major heritage attraction in north-east Wales. The T3 TrawsCymru bus was parked outside with a wonderful sign down the side showing all the locations it stopped at, but it didn't mention any of, for example, the tourism attractions or visitor attractions on that route. So, in terms of cross-multiplier impact—.
I may have missed some of the questions. Can I say that the forum that you mentioned for north Wales, I wasn't aware of? I'm still learning, as well. There's a limit to my jurisdiction. It's one where I've been asked to—. Clearly, you're interested in buses and you're interested in passenger transport—
They're the lead body across six authorities. They're working with both university groups, both further education college groups and the business sector. They've been established a number of years. They picked up the mantle or the responsibility from the old North Wales Economic Forum and Taith, the old regional transport partnership, and they're developing a bid to go to both Governments to see if they can get funding and support for local delivery, and they're factored in predominantly on rail and road transport.
I have yet to engage with regional bodies. I've been dealing with national bodies. I'm quite happy to do so, and I can see that there would be real benefits if I did and my successor did as well, and I will follow up what you've said on that body.
Can I say that the workshops following the bus summit involved a large number of stakeholders across Wales, including, very much, north Wales? It was Llandudno Junction and Aberystwyth and Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff. There were a large number of comments, and I suspect a lot of what you've said about liaison and how matters are worked through is going to come out of the report that will flow from that summit. So, I will see that. Because it's very much a bottom-up approach—the workshops from the summit were about listening to industry, and it wasn't a case of being lectured at, talking at people. There's an element of that in January/February, in terms of compliance and—
We've got quite a lot to get through, Mark—[Inaudible.]—specific questions, have you, Mark? Have you got any more specific questions?
I haven't engaged—
Sorry, I was just asking Mark: do you have any more specific questions?
Well, the only question not referred to was the issue around multiplier impact, how we could use the network to better support local economies and infrastructures.
I am happy to address that. If you want to talk to me afterwards, I will have no problem—
We can follow that up in correspondence after.
We've got three subject areas left: Lee Waters leading on one, David Rowlands and Vikki Howells on another. We're okay for time, but can I ask Nick, are you happy, if the Members aren't quite getting what they want from you, if they can interrupt and jump in? Is that okay?
Yes, there are a number of interesting issues in your paper I want to pursue. Just to carry on the questioning that you were having with Adam Price about the standards, about the quality of the contracts that have been put in, you make a very persuasive case that it's self-defeating for the Welsh Government to allow firms to cut corners and therefore drive local firms out of business, because the Welsh Government will end up having to bail them out. So, that's a very persuasive point. You do specifically suggest that there should be service standards introduced to ensure PSV operators are not financially disadvantaged. How do you see that working? Who would set those service standards and how would they be enforced?
I'm suggesting that the service standards be discussed with industry through the CPT and with the Welsh Government. I think that you've seen a small element of that with the way that BSSG, at the moment, has an element relating to standards. It might be crude, but it's a starting point, and it's better than what exists in England, which is just a scattergun and everyone gets the same amount of money. So, there are a large number of areas where you can—. It's about dealing with each case. The industry would say, 'There are areas where we can provide a better quality service if, in fact, you opt for—'
So, you're suggesting self-regulation, or should there be a role for the Government?
No. I'm saying, in terms of the details of the service standards—I'm saying listen to industry, to the general principles. I'm not saying self-regulation.
You also suggest a more sophisticated use of the bus services support grant to ensure things like quality. You say the quality standards are fine ones, but the current approach is 'relatively crude'. So, what else do you think should be done?
I've raised this—again, I'm not arguing one or the other, but I'm pointing out that the proportion of money spent on BSSG is quite small compared with, say, concessionary fares. If you were able to increase the BSSG you could achieve an awful lot, and what I pointed out is that, just as an example, you could ensure that all bus services are registered in a way that addresses your needs. The service at the moment isn't very good. I've said it's a postbox. But it could be online if you required it to be online and the IT was provided and met service standards such as liaison with the local authority, notices being provided, and there's a whole—including specifying the route properly, because sometimes the routes are not well specified, and it's not clear from the local authority.
You make the point, or you imply, I think, that concessionary fares are a far less nimble policy tool, and the bus services support grant, if used more intelligently, could achieve more policy aims.
Well, you've—. There's a separate issue relating to people of a certain age who've retired having their bus passes.
In which case it would be—they surely would be separate streams. I'm not sure how you would—. They're both Government moneys. I'm basically saying, if you've got £100 million, say, and I know it's not that exact figure, it's a matter of: if you want to increase the BSSG, where do you get the money from?
Yes, and that's my—that's not what I'm asking. The current regime lacks flexibility in that sense, because there are two arbitrarily chosen funding pots, and one is more intelligently used than the other.
And the concessionary fares, what I've pointed out is the concessionary fares—. Wales was an innovator and introduced concessionary fares before England did, I think, and that's one of the reasons why it was set at a particular level, which I'd just say is a matter for you to decide. It's a political decision at what level you're paying those concessionary fares.
I'm 64, but because I live—I call it the centre of Wales as far as the train's concerned, but I live in Hereford, and that means I don't get a bus pass. I haven't got one.
Okay. So, just on concessionary fares, then, do you think—? Currently it's administered by 22 separate local authorities. Do you think that's the most efficient way to administer the scheme?
Probably not. Because I know that local operators have referred to the fact that some authorities are better than others at paying on the fourteenth of the month, or whatever it is. So, it would be easier to administer. If it was a central input—. It certainly should be investigated. I would have thought there would be synergies that potentially would be available.
Okay. You also made the point earlier that, had the traffic commissioner been in post earlier, the closure of small family firms might have been avoided. You also point out, in terms of concessionary fares, that the misuse of the fund by some operators is ongoing, and the Wales Audit Office has reported on this. You report cases of operators who manually count the number of concessionary pass holders, and you have concerns about the scope for mistakes and/or worse, and point out the major fraud prosecution. So, do you think the Welsh Government have been sufficiently on the ball on this?
I think the Welsh Government can't be criticised for being less on the ball—. It might well be better than in England. There is some analysis taking place in Wales. Whether there is any taking place in England, I don't know. So, I'm suggesting that there's a—. There's certainly scope for improvement. That's the point I would make. And, talking to Welsh Government officials, I think they would say the same. At the moment, there's one operator at least that doesn't use technology. It's a question of whether you're going to require the use of technology before you pay the concessionary fares.
Yes, but you need to provide the technologies. It's a matter of developing and providing the technology. But I think it would be—
Some of the firms have different financial constraints or different financial models. But the short answer to your question is 'yes'; there's no reason why all firms should not use the same technology, but it's for you to require it. And I'm also saying you need to have checks to make sure people are not abusing the system.
First of all, can I echo some of Lee Waters's earlier comments with regard to this report? I found it quite fascinating, very interesting and comprehensive, so thank you for that. It gives us an excellent insight not only to your work but to the background under which you're working with regard to the organisation. So, thank you for that.
But there are also quite disturbing points. Particularly, I think we've already mentioned about the race-to-the-bottom contracting situation, but also, if we can turn to community transport and the permitting situation there, I would say that most of us would find it pretty disturbing that you say that there's 'a hotch-potch of organisations' who are able to actually allow these permits. And I find also the fact that you have two actual permits—the one that allows the community transport to transport members not only of organisations, but also the public in general—but they're not covered by PSV. Is that right?
I need to be slightly careful, because since I wrote this I'm aware that the Transport Select Committee is conducting an investigation. Indeed, today's Wednesday and, on Monday, one of the traffic commissioners was giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee. My view is that if you look at the legislation, you look at the EU regulation and the derogation, community transport can be interpreted as being a matter that's capable of being devolved. I understand from a discussion with the Welsh Government that some lawyers may say differently. I haven't actually had a chance to talk to those lawyers because my view remains that it should be capable of being devolved, and I'm saying that if it is devolved—and I believe that that's so—then there would be an opportunity for Wales to do something innovative.
The example of where it's—. It's an area that is ripe for reform. I met with the Community Transport Association relatively recently, and they pointed out that they issue permits for organisations that can themselves issue permits. So, there's a list of 60 designated bodies—the Girl Guides, the boy Scouts, the British Wrestling Association and a sundry list—and on that sundry list it includes the Community Transport Association, but the Community Transport Association issue permits for those that can issue their own. And when I ask why, the answer is because those bodies, in terms of protecting the children if they're carrying children, will say, 'Well, we know that the Community Transport Association have good governance and they have training.' They call it MiDAS training—there's specialist training that they require. So, they don't just issue them like confetti, as it were, which other organisations could because we don't even know how many permits exist.
No, because you actually say there—. You mention the lack of transparency and accountability within those organisations as well.
I'm not suggesting anyone is doing something deliberately wrong; what I'm saying is that there were permits that were issued decades ago, and because the—. Primary legislation allowed for a statutory instrument to be promulgated that would have said after five years, they would lapse, and all new permits since then—since the Local Transport Act 2008—for five years, but the old ones could still be in existence. And I know that when, as an experiment, the traffic commissioner in the north-west based in Leeds said, 'Before I'm granting permits, I want people to come along so I can give them a 20-minute chat about what's good and what's bad', a number of applicants said, 'I'm not going to bother coming to you; I'll go elsewhere and get my permit'.
What wider discussions might you have had with the community transport sector on the suggestion that there should be one permitting body? Have you had any further discussions with them on that, please?
I really want to be careful, because it's a matter that the Westminster Government is actually considering, and I don't want to tread on its toes. I stand by what I said. I don't resile from any of the comments I've made in the report, but because the Transport Select Committee is very much live to the issue—
So, the same situation—exactly the same situation is pertaining to England as it is in Wales.
Yes. And I'm saying that if England—. It's more difficult to bring about change in England, and, frankly, because of Brexit and so on, the Government is busy and it's difficult for it to legislate. And, so, if Wales has the opportunity, if there is devolution, you can do things ahead of England, and, in a number of areas, you can do things which England may wish to follow when it's shown to be successful.
Fine. So, you think that it would be better if we could have this matter devolved and then deal with them as the National Assembly, rather than wait for that prolonged process that might happen within Westminster. Is that right?
I've got two supplementaries before I come on to a new subject area with Vikki Howells. Joyce Watson.
Just for clarity really, and for the record, you do state in this report that local authorities are the most likely to give permits inappropriately, but you also go on to say, and I want to put it on the record, that you haven't actually found any complaints about that in Wales, that it most likely happens in England. And I just think that, for the sake of the record, and fairness and openness, that that needs to be stated.
I'm happy to do that. There have been a few well-publicised cases and I don't want to get involved with them because they may be subject to litigation. But they have happened in England, and I am unaware of there being a problem in Wales.
What dialogue have you had with the Community Transport Association in Wales and member bodies regarding the current consultation by the UK Government on regulatory changes, which providers in my region tell me will put many of them out of operation? In England, the UK Government is proposing a fund to enable local community transport providers to access that in these circumstances, but there's no equivalent fund yet proposed here.
I wasn't aware of there being a specific fund to access. Is that in relation to vehicles, or do you mean licences?
It's, I think, the licensing regime, but the cost impact of the regulatory change proposals would drive out many of the local operators in Wales, they say.
You say 'drive out operators'. If the—. I've met with the Community Transport Association in Wales, and Bill Freeman, who's chief executive of the GB Community Transport Association, was present, and I said that it's important, because, at the time, they'd just had the letter issued from the Department for Transport, that I didn't get embroiled in that and speak on behalf of traffic commissioners. Clearly, if there's an issue of litigation, I don't want to—. I say to people, 'You need to get your own advice', as it were. However, I've given my view here. I don't think that the comments from the DfT are legally incorrect. The comments from the select committee appeared to be, 'Why haven't you issued that earlier?', as it were. I suspect that the CTA—or I know from the CTA that they may well be advising some members in some areas to apply for operator licences. A lot will be fine, hopefully.
Many of the smaller local ones don't wish to have to do that. But, equally, they say that the financial impact would require them to cease operation. You're quite right, I think the UK Government consultation—which I think is still current—as opposed to the legal advice, is proposing or aligning commercial services with non-commercial services, on the basis of complaints from the commercial sector that there's unfair competitive pressure. But the impact of this in Wales, I'm told by the sector, will close down community transport providers.
It's not so much a matter of unfairness. My understanding is that the issue is, if you look at the legislation and the EU regulation and the derogation, the law is clear, but it hasn't been interpreted consistently over the years. And that was the matter that is now being addressed. So, if you want to—. The law needs to be clear and it's clearly for Westminster and for the Welsh Assembly to decide on what the law should be. I'm not sure if I've really answered your question—
Thank you, Chair. I'd like to discuss with you the committee's report on bus congestion. I understand that you've had a chance to read it over. At the time, you felt that you couldn't contribute because of purdah arrangements around the general election. So, would you be able to outline for us your views on the report before I ask you some further questions around specific details?
Okay. I hope what I've said is self-explanatory. I think the key point is that, as the regulator of both the PSV and the haulage industry, I know that there are issues of perception and there are many people who think that all buses must be good and all trucks must be bad, and it's a matter of pointing out that, as far as the haulage industry is concerned, it will assist both congestion and environmental concerns in relation to air pollution if trucks of Euro 6 in particular are actually allowed on roads.
Many members of the public don't appreciate that the fumes that come out of the exhaust of a Euro 6 truck will usually be cleaner than the air of the person standing next to the driver. So, where, in some instances, there are campaigns to eliminate trucks—44-tonne lorries and so on—if they are taken away from some roads—and I'm talking about some trucks as well—then the outcome will be that you're using more vans, and vans have different standards. The technology for trucks is exponentially better in terms of the diesel engines than it is for cars. I drive a 12-year-old diesel car and I'm sure that my 12-year-old diesel car causes more pollution than—. I bought at a time when I thought it was fine and it was meant to be innovative, as it were, but it's now 12 years old and a fleet of trucks will produce less pollution than my single car. And if you have vans delivering the same goods as a 44-tonne truck, you get increased congestion. I'm pointing out that, if you're going to combat congestion, it's about addressing the fact that you're not going to have more roads—a few more roads perhaps, and it's always contentious—and you need to look at all the road users, including cyclists, and there are issues relating to safety. Very often, there's a blanket 'Oh, don't have HGVs', and sometimes that's not helpful.
So, from listening to industry, there have been some examples where—typically on the outskirts of a city, where there aren't bus stops every few 100 yards; if there's a longer distance between bus stops, there have been a number of instances where a bus lane can be used by perhaps a car that has got two or more people or can be used by a HGV as well. There are a few examples where that's happened and it's proved, I understand, relatively successful. Clearly—
Would you be able to give us some more details or send us details of the locations where that has been trialled? Also, we'd be very interested in the impact that that might have had on either air quality or congestion in particular.
The areas where it's happened—I know there's one in Exeter, on the road leaving the city. There's one in Leeds, connecting the M1 to some industrial estate; I've had some photographs of it. The tunnel that is being built adjacent to the Blackwall tunnel in London—it's called the Silvertown tunnel—the plan, at the moment, is to have a lane that is used both by HGVs and PSVs. I think the A23 in parts of south London has a bus lane that's used by HGVs. And there is—at least there was one in Newcastle; I'm not sure if that's still used. I'm not saying it's used right across the country. I'm merely saying: think intelligently about road use, and don't fall into the trap of thinking that lorries are bad, because, frankly, without your lorries, you don't get your milk in your supermarkets, and you need them to deliver.
It's certainly a very interesting idea. Have you got any further personal views about the circumstances that might be appropriate for this to occur?
I have got a view that—. From my time as a traffic commissioner, and from listening to the bus industry and listening to the haulage industry over the years, I'm of the view that, when you introduce a bus lane, you need to make sure that you listen, you engage, and you ensure that it's well used. If you have a bus lane that doesn't have vehicles in it for large parts of the time, then you're going to antagonise the local population. And there are some parts of the country where bus lanes have been taken out, because either they weren't designed particularly well or the introduction wasn't marketed very well.
So, are you saying that any bus lane would be suitable for HGVs to use, then?
No. No. What I'm saying is that, if you look at each case on its merits and look at issues of road safety, it is unlikely that, in a city centre, you'd find an HGV should be in a bus lane, particularly as city centres are so congested. You might find that it's suitable for a bicycle to share a bus lane, but, even there, there's a difficulty, because of the nature of buses; cyclists are vulnerable as well.
And if we were to move for HGVs to share these bus lanes in certain circumstances, do you think that—
It would be exceptional.
Do you think that that's an area that would require national guidance, or should it be left to individual highway authorities?
I'm putting it to you as the Assembly to reflect on the fact that there may be instances. Let's say, for example, you wanted a bus lane linking a motorway into the centre of Cardiff, and it's a long road. It may be that you want to make sure that bus lane is well utilised, and, in certain circumstances—again, each case has got to be looked at on its merits—it may be appropriate to allow HGVs to use that bus lane.
Have you had any discussions with bus operators around this? I'd be interested to know what their views might be.
I've mentioned it, and it's been mentioned by others at the bus summit. I understand it's proved successful in—I said Exeter and elsewhere, but, to be quite frank, I don't claim to be the fount of all knowledge; I merely say that, in certain circumstances, in limited circumstances, it may assist buses, where there might be opposition to a bus lane, to say, 'Well, actually, other vehicles could use it as well'. In the same way, to take it to the other extreme, in parts of central—. You've got Peter Hendy later, I think, and I remember that, if you go through parts of central London, the buses are so critical and there is such little road space that they've even excluded taxis and private hire from some bus lanes. Well, that's fine; it's actually about saying, 'Look at each case on its merits'. It's about making the best use of road space, taking into account the needs of vulnerable road users, such as cyclists.
Thank you. And one final question from me: at the core of our report was this issue of the cyclical problem of bus congestion driving down passenger numbers. So, you get buses caught in congestion, then they're running late. Because they're running late, people then move away from using the buses because they're seen as unreliable. But I notice that, in part of your evidence, you talk about the principle of relating funding to quality standards, and one of the things that you actually raise there is that there could be greater emphasis on quality, for example, referrals where a service fails to run to timetable. That seems to contradict some of the other things you've said, in a way, because, if we're looking at referrals where a service fails to run to timetable, but that failure to run to timetable is because of congestion, how could that be overcome?
No, it's—. Yes, there's an issue relating to congestion, but if a case comes to me, to a public inquiry, say, because a bus has not run to the registered timetable, there could be a reasonable excuse. If there's an accident, say, there's a defence of a reasonable excuse. But if it's known that there will be congestion at a particular time of the day, because of the schools—there are different levels of congestion during the school term time than in school holidays, and it can be properly planned. So, despite the fact that cities will have more vehicles, with good planning, you can still avoid the congestion. Can I say—? One of the benefits, and I've said this over successive years in my annual reports to the Secretary of State, is that the levels of timeliness of the buses in Wales is actually, in my view, better than in equivalent areas of England. In part, that is because you, the Welsh Government and Assembly, have funded the bus compliance officers, who have been helping to educate as well as enforcing the law relating to timetable compliance. If an operator doesn't run to time, I can fine them. I don't think it's a contradiction. It would be if I just said, 'If a bus runs late, there's a fine.' There's only a financial penalty if it comes to a public inquiry and there's a determination that it's proportionate. And clearly, I'm subject to an appeal to the upper tribunal, to the High Court. I merely point out that, if you run a high-quality service, great, I'd encourage that, and if you don't run a good-quality service by running consistently late, then you come to an inquiry.
There's a very brief question from Lee Waters, and then a very brief answer. We're just a little bit over time, Lee.
Just to tease out something you said on the use of bus lanes, and you make the sound point that each instance should be considered on its merits, but you seem to be implying that HGVs and bikes sharing a space is fine, however segregated bike lanes cause a problem because they prevent emergency vehicles being able to pull over to the side.
I didn't wish to say—. Sorry, I'm not saying that bicycles and HGVs sharing the bus lane is necessarily fine. I'm merely saying that each case is looked at on its merit. If I gave that impression, I'm sorry. That wasn't what I intended. What I'm saying is look at each case on its merits.
I'm aware that there are issues in London in particular, and some other cities, where they've got cycleways that have eaten into the main road space, which has made it difficult for emergency vehicles. So, I merely say, 'Be careful about the design', because I suspect that if the emergency services had a bigger input into the design, they might have suggested something different. It's about learning from others.
Traffic commissioner, can I thank you for your time with us this morning? Your annual report was very comprehensive. We're very grateful for that. It's heartening that it seems like our committee is what makes your report public. I'm grateful for that as well. If there are any further questions after the committee, we might write to you, if you're happy to receive any correspondence from us in that regard. If you do review the Record and there are areas that you want to clarify or add to what you've said, then please do so.
Thank you. I'm very happy to answer questions in the future on future matters, and I'm expecting one in relation to the matter that I wasn't able to answer for Mr Isherwood.
Thank you for the invitation. Thank you.
Item 3, papers to note. Are Members happy to note the papers? That's agreed.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I move to item 4. Under Standing Order 17.42, I resolve to exclude members of the public from the remainder of the meeting. I'm grateful.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:43.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:43.