Clause 17 - Arrangements for network management

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 29th January 2004.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 11:00 am, 29th January 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 170, in

page 7, line 28, after 'manager)', insert

'for a period not exceeding 5 years'.

The amendment need not be debated at tremendous length. It is designed to find out what the Government think about the proposition that a traffic manager's appointment should not exceed five years. Such an arrangement would prevent complacency and long outsourcing contracts, which would be to the detriment of future generations of local taxpayers.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I think that I can be helpful. We do not intend, in any way, shape or form, to tell local authorities how to arrive at local solutions to the question of appointing designated officers called traffic managers. The reasons behind the notion that there should be a temporal dimension to the management of the network duty escape me. In the broad spirit of resisting the temptation to meddle in local matters, the Government are simply saying that there should be a network management duty for ever after Royal Assent. That duty, and our reasons for imposing it, will not go away in three or five years, and I do not understand the issue in that temporal sense.

To be frank, some people in local government feared that the Government would seek to impose such and such a person at M3 level in each engineering department and that the job description would be laid out centrally, along with everything else. We do not intend to do that. We are not imposing, in any way, shape or form, the how and where of the placement of network managers; we are simply saying that there should be a network management duty and a designated officer called the traffic manager.

The virtues of imposing a time limit therefore escape me. It would be like saying that every local authority must, under law, have a designated finance officer. Why should such an officer be there for only five years when local authorities face internal and ongoing external financial considerations for ever? The statutory duty and the designated officer who carries it out should be permanent features of local government. The reasons for a five-year limit therefore escape me, and I ask the hon. Member for Christchurch to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

Having had something of a hand in drafting the amendment, I am happy to contribute to the debate. The amendment is born of my 11 years as a councillor, for six of which I was the leader of a local authority. It occurred to me then—nothing that has happened since has dissuaded me of this—that giving key senior officials contracts is far better than employing someone in their 40s until they are 60 or 65. In my experience, it is much easier to negotiate another five-year contract with someone than to consider bringing in someone new if the incumbent is not up to the job.

I am in no way suggesting that the problem that we are addressing will go away in five years. If there is a need for a traffic manager, there is a need for a traffic manager. Such key officials are usefully put on five-year contracts, which focuses their minds wonderfully to do exactly whatever the job is. The Minister talked about finance directors. If I recall my days in local government rightly, our chief executives and finance

officers were on five-year contracts, which worked wonderfully. Our local authority set the pace in achieving change and delivering better value for money to our ratepayers, as they were in those days. The Minister misunderstands if he thinks that someone would be in the post for only five years. [Interruption.] The authority that the Minister is looking for is Wansdyke, which has since been abolished, although that was nothing much to do with my tenure.

There is a matter of principle behind the amendment, about whether we should dictate to local authorities how they go about their duties. I have always believed that fixed-term contracts, which are renewable until the age of 65, are a good tool for getting better performance out of people.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I thought that I said clearly that I had tried to read the runes to see what was behind the amendment, which I supposed was either the temporal consideration or an attempt to meddle in the internal affairs of local authorities. The hon. Gentleman has kindly told me that the answer is the latter, in which case I am even more against the amendment than if it had been the former. We have said in the strongest terms that although we are setting the framework and the statutory duty, it is not our business to dictate centrally, in some neo-Stalinist fashion, where in the authority, at what pay rate and for what term of contract the traffic manager should be appointed. Those are matters for the local authority. Our only concern is that authorities ensure that traffic managers fulfil their duties.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

That argument ill becomes the Minister, when he himself is on a five-year contract. What is the problem?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The problem is that my contract is a personal contract between the 86,549 voters of Harrow, East and me. It is up to those voters whether I endure in my post. Nobody imposes the five-year term of that contract on me. I know what that contract is when I enter into it. It is right and proper that there be a single MP for that area and that the contract endures. It is not for central Government to dictate to local government how duties should be achieved, other than through what we have set out in guidance and in the panoply of other matters in the Bill. We have said clearly that we want the relevant duties to be in statute. We want them to be fulfilled, and there are sanctions in case they are not. We need a designated officer to secure those duties, which is the right and proper way to go. It is up to local authority authorities to determine the pay, the bread rations and whatever else of that manager. That is entirely proper in the general scheme of things, given the relationship between central Government and local government.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I beg to move amendment No. 152, in

page 7, line 29, at end insert—

'(2A) The arrangements must ensure that the authority—

(a) takes into account and has regard to the importance of street works in connecting, maintaining, repairing and replacing essential services such as gas, electricity, water and telecommunications; and

(b) in implementing the arrangements does not discriminate between its own works and street works.'.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 135, in

page 7, line 30, at end insert—

'(3A) The traffic manager shall ensure that prior to the commencement of any work on the highway other than emergency work, by, or on behalf of the local authority which appointed him, a reasonable period is agreed and publicised within which the work should be carried out.'.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I must admit that I was tempted to speak in the debate on new clause 1, because the amendment is on similar territory. My hon. Friend the Minister's comments in response to that debate are helpful, particularly his points about guidance and how the local authorities and highway authorities will be subject to the same rules. The Minister can be assured that I shall not push the amendment to the vote. However, I have some questions that I hope he can answer. Will we ensure that local authorities pay due regard to the provision and maintenance of essential services other than just traffic. Will he also ensure that local authorities recognise the essential nature of utilities infrastructure works? Several utilities are concerned that network management will ignore those issues. Will he ensure that they are addressed in the guidance?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I rise to speak to amendment No. 135 and to tease out some information from the Minister, because I believe that the terms of the amendment should always be best practice. Like the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, I live in Pimlico where there is a good local authority. When a parking bay is closed, prior notice is given to residents with a sign telling us that the provision will be withdrawn for the period specified on the notice. That should always be the case.

As I drive around Britain—I will not mention Leicester or Bexhill—I often find that I use a road for two or three days running, but on the fourth day a lane is closed with no prior notice that roadworks were to be carried out. In two such instances, the work was of a non-urgent nature and had been planned for several months. However, the planners had not seen fit to erect a traffic sign warning motorists that there would be a lane closure. Why is that the case? In the interests of good traffic management, motorists should be given advance warning that a route could be subject to disruption and delay. Motorists can then decide whether their journey is necessary, and if it is, they can use an alternative route. The amendment would ensure that best practice is always followed in future.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

At the risk of sounding repetitive, the issue is better dealt with in guidance. I agree with many of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East and the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire. We have no interest in preventing utility works that benefit individuals, businesses and the whole economy, and local

authorities will be well aware of the importance of utility services to their communities.

Duties relating to network management must be considered in the context of existing legislation. Utility companies already have a statutory right to carry out work to install or maintain apparatus. The duty placed on highway authorities in part 2 of the Bill will not interfere with that; the network management duty deals more with co-ordination and the way that works are carried out.

As I said in the little note given on guidance, good practice and advice on techniques and approaches to network management will cover, among other things, the co-ordination and direction of utility street works and authorities' own works. That broadly covers the time issues that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire raised. When drafting secondary legislation and guidance to underpin the permit scheme, we will try to ensure that highway authorities take into account the disruption that may be caused by their works. We will also ensure that they do not discriminate unfairly against utility works.

A small tetchy point about amendment No. 135 is that it does not specify with whom the ''reasonable period'' is to be agreed. One must assume that the traffic manager will have to agree with himself the time frame for carrying out the work for the authority that employs him.

The wider point made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire on amendment No. 135 is fair. It was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East. I assure them that, as indicated in the little aide-mémoire on statutory instruments and guidance in relation to part 2, we will take account of the points in guidance.

I personally cannot foresee how the highway authority could reach a position in which it was co-ordinating and directing street works in general in its area and fulfilling its statutory network management duty in clause 16 without the system suggested by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, which involves start and end dates, timing and getting on with works when they are ready to be done, rather than coning areas off, as we have all seen in the past. I cannot see how anything else could happen without contravening the network management duty.

With the assurance that those matters will be dealt with in guidance and as anticipated by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East, I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 11:15 am, 29th January 2004

The Government should accept amendment No. 135. If they have a quarrel with the words and think that there is ambiguity, I will happily withdraw it, with the purpose of bringing it back in better shape on Report, but unless or until the Minister makes such a commitment, I am minded to press the amendment to a vote.

The Government think that it is reasonable for the statutory undertaker to agree with the street works authority, in advance of street works, a reasonable

period in which the works should be carried out, with an end date. If that end date is not met, penalties flow. The Minister talks about when we have a dedicated traffic manager in the local authority, and Opposition Members have said that we think that that is a good idea. A traffic manager, with a responsibility for maintaining the network and the free flow of traffic, should be able—indeed, should be required—to agree a reasonable period for the execution of the work that it has in mind with the part of the local authority that is responsible for highway work. That period can then be publicised. Amendment No. 135 does not involve a sanction other than public odium, but at least there is some sanction.

You may be aware, Mr. Beard—I do not know which part of London you come into Westminster from—that there have been road works outside Lambeth North tube station for, I think, two years. When the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson)—he is not working today—is not in Plymouth, he is obviously waiting outside Lambeth North tube station uttering words that he probably would not wish others to hear about the incompetence of that authority in carrying out those works. For a long time, there was a sign saying that the works would be completed by, I think, April 2003, but as they still have not been completed, the sign has been taken away.

If ever there were an example of why the amendment is necessary, that is surely it. There are many other examples around London—at Vauxhall Cross and elsewhere—of works that seem to be taking an incredibly long time. That does not give the travelling public, pedestrians and so on the impression that highway authorities really have an interest in expediting works so that the highway can be restored to its previous state.

What is unreasonable about requiring a traffic manager, in cases in which there is no emergency, to agree a reasonable period for the execution of work and to publicise it? If the work is carried out at greater length than was agreed, there could be a public debate, including letters in the local paper and local councillors put on the rack for the local authority's incompetence. That is what we had in mind in amendment No. 135, and I am disappointed that it does not commend itself to the Minister.

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

The example given by the hon. Member for Christchurch about traffic in north Lambeth was erroneous: I have seen the traffic there improve over the last few months. In view of the Minister's assurances, I shall seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am attracted to amendment No. 135, and should like to defend the drafting done by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire: I do not think that it is as bad as the Minister suggested. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was generous in saying that it may need to be re-worked. It seems clear that when it says

''a reasonable period is agreed'',

that reasonable period would be agreed between the traffic manager, acting on behalf of the motoring public, who want less congestion, and those carrying out the works, who may be statutory undertakers or the highways authority works department.

My hon. Friend has in mind exactly the kind of creative tension within the local authority that I tried to introduce in another debate on another new clause, where the highways department responsible for maintaining and improving the network would have to negotiate with and answer to the traffic manager responsible for the proper use of the network as it stands. That is inherent in the amendment, and if my hon. Friend is happy for the Government to redraft it, so am I. I accept that what we want to get across today is merely the point behind the amendment. The Minister should understand that the amendment was thought through sensibly, and the agreement intended would have been made between the traffic manager for the motoring public and whoever it might be on the other side who wished to restrict the highway for works, which could include the works department of the highways authority. It is excellent that my hon. Friend wishes to press the matter further. Since the Minister said that he thought that the publication of a timetable for works was an excellent idea, why cannot we have that in the Bill?

Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 135, in

page 7, line 30, at end insert—

'(3A) The traffic manager shall ensure that prior to the commencement of any work on the highway other than emergency work, by, or on behalf of the local authority which appointed him, a reasonable period is agreed and publicised within which the work should be carried out.'.—[Mr. Chope.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 9.

Division number 12 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 17 - Arrangements for network management

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.