Clause 31

Part of Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 11:45 am, 6th May 2008

The amendments would move us back to the position where, in all circumstances when a local authority proposed to continue a quality contracts scheme beyond its initial period the scheme would have to be made again from scratch, with a full approvals process in every case.

We want to change the current legislation because it is not possible under that legislation for a quality contracts scheme to continue beyond its initial period—the authority has to go back through the full process of making a new scheme. We want there to be a more flexible, lighter touch, which we are bringing in under the Bill.

Under the provisions, an authority that wanted to extend its quality contracts scheme would need to publish a consultation document reporting on the effectiveness of the scheme so far, as well as making the case for continuing it for up to a period of a further 10 years. The proposals would be subject to the same consultation procedure and approvals and appeals process as a new scheme, but with appropriate modifications and certain exemptions from the approvals process.

In particular, where it was proposed that the scheme should not be expanded to cover additional services, the scheme would not need to be submitted for approval. The new approvals process with certain modifications and exemptions would apply to any application to continue a quality contracts scheme beyond 10 years. We have set out the conditions that would need to be met if the scheme is to be exempt from this process and impose a requirement on the local authority to publicise any such proposal. Other than for exempt proposals the application would need the approval of the approvals board or Welsh Ministers. Only schemes that had achieved their stated objectives or were well on the way to doing so, and where there would be public benefit, would be likely to be approved.

We now come to the exemptions. Proposals in the draft Bill would have required every continuation scheme to go through the approvals process. However, one of the key functions of the approvals process is to ensure that the effect on deregulated services is properly taken into account. If a quality contracts scheme is already in force and will usually have been in force many years, as long as the scope of the scheme is not widened, there will be no such services to take into account. In those cases, there seems little point in submitting the continuation scheme to the approvals board or Welsh Ministers.

However, we accept that some authorities will want to modify the schemes when they continue them, either to adjust the boundaries to take account of road or planning developments since the existing scheme was approved or to vary the description of services that are excluded from the scheme or to bring in additional services. If any changes of that sort meant that services previously operating outside the scheme would be part of it, it seems appropriate for the approvals process to apply. That is a necessary safeguard because without it a local authority could greatly expand the scope of an existing scheme, making it virtually a new scheme, without going through the approval process.

In order for a continuation scheme to be exempt, two sets of conditions need to be satisfied. The first is that there is no increase in the geographical area, or only to such a minor extent that no existing bus services or additional local authority would be taken into the scheme. Any one of those conditions must be satisfied.