£500m transport underspend revealed

17 Jan 02
The government has underspent its transport budget by more than £500m in the past two years, Transport Secretary Stephen Byers said this week.

18 January 2002

Despite ministerial promises of more resources for Britain's ailing transport system after the publication of the Strategic Rail Authority's ten-year plan this week, Byers admitted his department is failing to spend the money it already has.

Grilled by MPs on the transport, local government and the regions select committee on January 16, he said £350m of the capital budget went unused in 2000/01. In the current year, the underspend will be £180m.

Sir Richard Mottram, permanent secretary at the DTLR, said underspending always occurred but conceded that too much money was going unused. The current underspend is equal to 5.5% of the department's capital budget. Mottram said the figure should be more like 2%.

Byers defended the government's position by saying that getting value for money was more important than the actual amount spent. `It's the easiest thing in the world to spend money unwisely. There's a fixation to see how much we have spent,' he told the MPs.

`For the first time we are going to see a sustained investment in transport over the next ten years. [We must] make sure we get a real return for that spending.' He added that less money would be left unspent next year.
In a hearing lasting more than two hours Byers said ministers remained confident they could continue to attract private sector money. But one area where the private sector influence will be reduced is the number of train operating companies.

Currently 25 Tocs help to run the British network. Byers said this number would be cut, because the more inefficient companies would not have their contracts renewed.


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