As the Liberal Democrat spokesman said, amendment No. 144 would mean that plans were reviewed every five years. I have some sympathy for the amendment, for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman advanced. The amendment would mean that authorities had to
“review their plan...once every five years”,
but I would have liked the hon. Gentleman to go a little further, because it does not suggest any action or require the authority to do anything. Although I am sympathetic to the proposal, it suffers from two defects: it calls only for a review and does not define the timetable for the plan thereafter.
Local authorities are required to replace their transport plans every five years. Subsection (3) will change that so that authorities can replace their plans whenever they see fit. I am in favour of giving local transport authorities greater flexibility in timetabling the replacement of their transport plans, but amendment No. 37 is motivated by my two concerns about the wording of the clause, and I hope that the Minister will address them.
My primary fear relates to the fact that “as they think fit” is a phrase of uncertainty because there will be no fixed timetable. Although we require and encourage the flexibility that not having a fixed timetable allows, if there is no fixed timetable, or if matters are left to when an authority sees fit, it is possible to envisage situations in which local passengers would not know from one week to the next how services would run. That would undermine the hope of persuading people to use public transport and increasing public transport patronage.
How are local operators of local services to plan ahead if the council’s transport plan can be changed at any moment? No one is suggesting that that will happen, and I do not necessarily mean that it will happen from one moment to the next. None the less, an element of uncertainty arises from the words “as they think fit.”
Amendment No. 37 would ensure that local authorities retained the flexibility and autonomy that they needed in deciding when to replace their plans, but it would require them to give “one year’s notice” of such replacement, thereby eliminating potential uncertainty.