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MPs slam 'disappointing' Department for Transport

The Government must re-examine its policy on road pricing to deal with congestion, focus on train reliability and pay more attention to regional development, according to the influential Transport Select Committee of MPs, in its scrutiny of the Department for Transport's annual report.

Commenting on the report Transport Committee Chair Louise Ellman said: "The Department must be clear about identifying its main priorities and showing how progress can be measured. It must demonstrate more clearly how it is addressing the Stern and Eddington reports so that environmental and economic targets can be achieved."

The department had met only one of its 'Public Service Agreements' (PSAs), set in the 2004 public spending review. "It now appears likely that only one of the PSA targets from the 2004 Spending Review will be met, even though some of these targets were not especially onerous. This does not inspire confidence that the Department will be able to use its additional resources to meet all of its new targets."

They also accused the DfT of passing the buck for implementing congestion charging, one of the recommendations of the Eddington report, to to local government. "Despite the apparent high priority attached by the government to a national road pricing scheme, the Department has made little progress and favours the implementation of local charging schemes initially.

"Since the petition against road pricing on the No. 10 website, which attracted some 1.8M virtual signatures, much of the responsibility for delivering congestion charging has been placed on local government through the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF)," reads the report.

The committee found that local authorities have little appetite in bidding for funding for road pricing schemes with only Manchester and Cambridge submitting detailed TIF bids.

MPs were concerned that while the DfT may have 'lost interest' in train punctuality. "It will be of little comfort to passengers if they trade a situation where they can stand aboard a punctual train for one where they are able to find a seat on a train which is late." The Committee warns that a loss of focus in this area might lead to a reversal of recent progress made over the past five years.

The committee also called for the Government to take a decision on high speed rail. "There is as yet no decision about the place of high-speed rail in forward planning. We were reassured by the Minister that it has not been ruled out, but the capacity problem on the West Coast Main Line is already grave. We were therefore concerned that the Department has no time-frame for a decision on a high speed link, at least as far as Birmingham, the stretch of the line with the most pressing problems," reads the report.

They were also "deeply disappointed" by the Government's decision to abandon lorry road user charging, proposed in 2002. They want it introduced as soon as possible to ensure foreign hauliers start to contribute toward the costs of maintaining the UK road network and for the environmental damage they cause.

Overall, the Committee of MPs recognised that the DfThas made some progress in addressing its major objectives but say the general picture is disappointing.

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