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

I agree with the noble Baroness inasmuch as it is important that it is not just the process, but the perception—and the perception in the mind of the public, too—that there is scrutiny, and effective independence in the auditor role. However, I believe that any auditor, on the basis of what we have suggested of having professional capacity, would be able to show that level of competence and, indeed, address the issues of perception. As such, it would be reasonable for the franchising authority to appoint such an auditor. That applies as much to the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, that it should be the auditor rather than the traffic commissioner, particularly as it would be the franchising authority that paid for the services of the auditor.

Coming back to the point raised by the noble Baroness and also by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I do understand that an auditor could be perceived as more independent if they are appointed by a third party—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, used the example of a traffic commissioner—or if the Bill specifically stated that they must be independent. However, I would argue, again, that any auditor with an established reputation would be mindful to protect their own role and independence in any report they provided.

On the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, it might be worth saying up front that I do not think the amendment as proposed quite addresses his intent, but I understand his concerns in this respect. The audit provisions in the Bill are not intended to replicate the quality contract scheme board process, but the auditor plays an important role both for the authority and for those that will be impacted by the scheme. As I have said before, the auditor will provide a quality check, and will provide assurance to the franchising authority that it has taken account of the guidance in developing its scheme. This provides a helpful check for the authority by assuring it that it has followed the necessary processes and addressed the relevant issues, while also safeguarding the interests of local passengers and bus operators. Again, I reiterate that the decision to move the franchising is the decision of the mayor or local authority alone.

I hope that this discussion has reassured noble Lords that the Bill as drafted ensures that there is a level of independent assurance while not undermining the role of the authority to take relevant decisions. That said, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others, including the noble Baroness, said that the auditor process should be robust and perceived to be robust. I am happy to speak further with noble Lords to understand their concerns more clearly and decide how we can move forward. However, the Government feel that the issues raised by noble Lords have been addressed in the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.