The proposals in the Local Transport Bill aim to make quality contracts a more realistic option for local transport authorities by replacing the “only practicable way” test with a new set of public interest criteria.
I welcome that comment, because locally elected integrated transport authorities should be able to choose whether to introduce quality contracts in their area. I wish to press the Minister on the role of the approvals boards, which have been mentioned already. Can she confirm that it will be the job of the approvals board to ensure that transport authorities have gone through the proper process in reaching a decision to introduce quality contracts? Those unelected approvals boards should not have a right of veto simply because they happen to disagree with the decision reached by elected local representatives on the transport authorities that quality contracts are the right approach for bus services in their area.
I shall explain how we see the composition of an approvals board. It will include the traffic commissioner, a transport expert from the area and a transport economist. The idea is that the approvals board will ensure that the local authority has gone through the proper process of consultation, but in addition the approvals board process will ensure that the scheme will work in practice, that the economics add up and that it is a viable service for the local area. It is about providing more certainty for local authorities that their decisions will not be judicially reviewed—although that cannot always be guaranteed—and for operators that a new scheme has been subject to independent scrutiny and is likely to operate efficiently.