My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 42 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Berkeley. I understand that the amendment may not be perfectly drafted—it may be more appropriate to have “of” rather than “and to”, but we can deal with that when the Minister gives me comfort that he accepts its basic direction of travel.
The amendment’s purpose is to look at the role of the auditor. It would ensure that that role is restricted to areas that are both within the auditor’s competence and entirely focused on the matters set out in proposed new Section 123D(2)(a) and (b), which states:
“The auditor’s report must state whether, in the opinion of the auditor … the information relied on by the authority or authorities in considering”,
whether the authority or authorities would be able to afford, make and operate the scheme and whether the proposed scheme would represent value for money, is of sufficient quality and that the analysis of the information is also of sufficient quality.
Without this amendment, proposed new Section 123D(2) could be interpreted as giving the auditor a wider remit, given that, as drafted, the auditor must give an opinion on whether the authority,
“had due regard to guidance under Section 123B”.
This guidance covers a much wider range of topics than those set out in proposed new Section 123D(2)(a) and (b), including the effects of the scheme, comparison of the proposed scheme to one or more courses of action and the scheme’s contribution to the implementation of wider plans and policies. As such, the current drafting risks giving the auditor a role which is beyond their professional expertise as well as creating conditions whereby a third party is second-guessing a locally accountable authority’s assessment. This in turn could introduce the kind of hurdle that led to the failure of the 2000 and 2008 Acts in creating a simpler route to franchising for those authorities that wish to pursue—I stress those that wish to pursue—this option.
The Government have committed to introducing a practical and efficient method of introducing bus franchising and this amendment, as redrafted, looks to assist them in that process.