Bus Services Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 4th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Parliamentary Under-Secretary 6:15 pm, 4th July 2016

My Lords, there are a number of amendments in this group, all related to the audit function required as part of the franchising provisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, proposes an amendment to state explicitly that the auditor, whose role is to issue a report to the franchising authority on certain aspects of the assessment of the proposed franchising scheme, must be independent. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, proposes an amendment that would require the auditor to be appointed by a traffic commissioner. The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, proposes an amendment that would require the auditor to consider matters relating to an authority’s consideration of affordability and value for money. I thank all noble Lords for their amendments, and will turn to each one.

Before I go into those details, the noble Baroness rightly talked about the Public Accounts Committee’s report on local scrutiny, and I thank her for bringing that to the Committee’s deliberations. We are of course ensuring that we consider its recommendations very carefully as the Bill moves through Parliament, and we will respond during the course of the Bill.

Turning to the amendments, I recognise the importance of ensuring that decisions to move to a model of franchising are taken on the back of quality information and robust analysis. As I have explained previously, in developing this Bill we have been keen to move away from the quality contract scheme processes set out in the Transport Act 2000, which, in particular, included the need for independent scrutiny by a “Quality Contract Scheme Board”. While I agree entirely that there is a need for a level of independent assurance, I do not think that devolved decisions should be second-guessed by an independent panel. We introduced the role of the auditor to ensure that an independent third party provides assurance that certain information used in the assessment is of sufficient quality, that the analysis of that information is robust and that relevant guidance has been followed. It is not the auditor’s role to take a view on the decisions taken by the franchising authority. As I am sure that noble Lords agree, their role is to provide a quality check.

The Bill requires any auditor to have a “recognised professional qualification” and to be eligible to act as the local auditor of the authority’s accounts. As such, we would expect any auditor to be suitably qualified and able to provide independent assurance.