My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Ruth Kelly) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
The Government published a draft Local Transport Bill on 22 May for public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny (Cm 7043). The package of measures included new and enhanced responsibilities for the traffic commissioners as part of a new bus punctuality performance regime, and in relation to the approval of bus “quality contracts” schemes.
The consultation paper on the draft Local Transport Bill highlighted that performing these new functions successfully is likely to require a different mix of skills and expertise from the existing core functions of the traffic commissioners and their support staff. It indicated that we were therefore considering whether the proposed new functions would be best delivered within the existing traffic commissioner structures, or whether further modifications could better deliver the desired outcomes.
The draft Local Transport Bill also includes proposals to encourage stronger transport governance in the six English metropolitan conurbations outside London, including changes to local transport planning. The consultation paper indicated there would be further consultation about local transport plans this summer.
I am today publishing two consultation documents. First, Strengthening Local Delivery—Modernising the Traffic Commissioner System explores the functions and responsibilities of the traffic commissioners in more detail and proposes the creation of a Board of Traffic Commissioners which would be responsible for ensuring that both the goods vehicle and bus sectors get the attention and resource they deserve.
In particular, the board would champion bus passengers' interests and complaints about the punctuality and reliability of local bus services.
The proposals seek to ensure that the traffic commissioner system is well placed to deliver the proposed new bus functions, alongside its existing responsibilities. The proposed board will also oversee the overall performance of the traffic commissioner system with an enhanced, centralised administrative support network to facilitate bus punctuality monitoring, ensuring that resources are focused on the greatest problem areas.
Secondly, Local Transport Planning: The Next Steps considers the statutory basis of local transport planning. It also sets out non-legislative proposals for reporting progress and distributing funding, related to local transport planning during the next three years.
Copies of both consultations have been placed in the Libraries of the House.
I would also like to announce that from 1 August 2007, operators of heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles who hold a licence in more than one traffic area will be allocated a lead traffic commissioner who will take decisions on all applications relating to their licences. This change is an important milestone in our implementation of the operator licensing reform agenda announced in December 2006. The Government's new proposals for reform of the traffic commissioner structure are entirely consistent with this initiative.