Pwyllgor yr Economi, Seilwaith a Sgiliau - Y Bumed Senedd
Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee - Fifth Senedd23/05/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Hefin David AM|
|Joyce Watson AM|
|Russell George AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Vikki Howells AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Andrew Morgan||Llefarydd Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru dros Drafnidiaeth, yr Amgylchedd a Chynaliadwyedd|
|Welsh Local Government Association Spokesperson, Transport, Environment and Sustainability|
|Dave Holland||Pennaeth Gwasanaethau Rheoliadol a Rennir—Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr, Caerdydd a Bro Morgannwg|
|Head of Shared Regulatory Services—Bridgend, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan|
|Dr Tim Peppin||Cyfarwyddwr Adfywio a Datblygu Cynaliadwy, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Director of Regeneration and Sustainable Development, Welsh Local Government Association|
|Roger Waters||Cyfarwyddwr Gwasanaeth—Priffyrdd a Gofal Stryd, Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Rhondda Cynon Taf|
|Service Director—Highways and Streetcare, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Amy Knox||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Lara Date||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:34.
The meeting began at 09:34.
Bore da. Good morning. I'd like to welcome Members to committee this morning. I move to item 1. We have apologies this morning from Jack Sargeant and Bethan Sayed. David Rowlands is no longer a member of the committee following political group changes recently, but I'd like to thank David for his work. He's been a member of the committee since the committee was formed at the beginning of this Assembly. We do currently have two vacancies on the committee also. Are there any declarations of interest this morning?
In that case, I move to item 2. We have a number of papers to note. Just going through, I think one is following our stakeholder session in regard to the 'Improving public transport' White Paper we had a few weeks back. The research team have put notes together in bullet form. So, if Members are happy to note that paper. Secondly, we have a letter from the Chair of the Finance Committee in regard to a piece of suggested joint work that we may do. Can I suggest that we note that paper for the moment and that we discuss how we respond to it later on in the meeting, when we come to discuss our future work programme? Are Members content with that?
In that case, I move to item 3, and this is our last session in regard to the 'Improving public transport' White Paper. This morning, we have a panel to help us with our evidence session from the local government perspective, and I'd like to welcome you all to committee this morning. Many of you have been to committee before, so I'd like to welcome you back and thank you for your time, because we appreciate you're all very busy people. Perhaps if I could ask, for the public record, if you could introduce yourselves, perhaps from my left.
Thank you. Good morning. My name is Roger Waters and I'm the service director for front-line services with Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council.
Andrew Morgan, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, and I'm the spokesperson for transport for the Welsh Local Government Association.
Good morning. I'm Tim Peppin, the director of regeneration and sustainable development at the WLGA.
Good morning. My name is Dave Holland. I manage the shared regulatory service that operates across Bridgend, the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff.
Thank you. If I can ask an opening question to start with. You would all, obviously, have seen and noted the White Paper. Is there anything in that White Paper that you think—? Or is there anything in the White Paper that you don't think—? Is there anything in the White Paper—? I'm going to start again. Is there anything you think should be in the White Paper that's not there now?
I think one thing that should have come out with the White Paper was the regulatory impact assessment, and, as far as we know, that hasn't yet been issued. A lot of the detail that we would need to really get behind some of the proposals in the White Paper would be in the RIA, so, without that, it has been quite difficult to comment. A key area for us is the level of funding that will be available for the proposals, and we would have expected the RIA to have gone into quite a bit of detail on some of the calculations that had been done behind the proposals, or for those to be part of the next phase of work. I think we've already agreed with Welsh Government officials that we would want to co-produce the next stage of work on the proposals, because the detail, which isn't in this initial paper, needs to be worked through jointly.
Right. That's interesting. Is that something you raised with Government at all?
In our response, we noted the fact the RIA hadn't been produced, and we also made the point about co-producing the next phase of work, yes.
Okay. But you've obviously had no feedback from the Government.
In terms of the co-production on the next piece of work, we've had a commitment. The Minister met with myself and all the local government transport cabinet members from across Wales. So, we had a session where we discussed the White Paper and elements of the White Paper, and we did press the need to co-produce the next piece of work going forward, if the Welsh Government was to take this forward. We had a commitment from the Minister and Deputy Minister there that they were very keen for that to happen and for it to work that way. But, in terms of that particular topic, the particular piece of work, I don't think we've had a response to that, have we?
Not on the RIA, no.
Okay. Is there any other area that you think should be included in the White Paper that's not there now?
A lot of it is about the detail. So, we've got the framework, but I think the detail needs quite a bit of work across the board, really.
We've been broadly supportive, and at that joint cabinet members meeting from across Wales—as I say, all 22 authorities—we were broadly supportive of what's in the paper, but we were very keen to stress that some of the detail is needed for us to fully understand the implications. That's why we are really keen to co-produce the next piece of work so that we're not simply responding to something that the Welsh Government brings forward. It is a piece of work we do jointly to make sure it joins up.
And did you have a response to that when you had that discussion?
Yes, and all the signs we've had have been fairly positive. In fairness, I think Welsh Government have recognised that, for this to work, we do need local government to lead on certain areas of this as well.
Sure. Do you think legislation is needed, or can there be change without there being a necessity for legislation or the Bill?
There have been a number of different changes where it's been tried voluntarily, which hasn't always seen the biggest impact. In terms of statutory joint transport authorities with additional powers, that is something that I think we probably would welcome. It's something that would give us more control over some of these areas. However, the biggest change in a lot of this, unfortunately, comes back to funding. Just simply trying to change the system with the existing funding regime in public transport, you will get some betterment, but it's going to be marginal. In some of the areas, to make the changes we need, it is going to take additional public funding, both capital and revenue, and that is a problem I think that everyone recognises.
Is that an issue you raised with Ministers?
What was the response to that?
I think it's noted.
I'm here to talk to you about taxis and private-hire vehicles predominantly, but the White Paper as written is probably a step back from some conversations we were having two years ago with Welsh Government officials on the 2017 consultation document. We'd done some really good co-production work there, and we seem to have come away from that. And this White Paper is something of a disappointment to local authority licensing officers, who had invested a lot of time, maybe, in 2017. But I think Andrew's right; the legislative change that we might seek does need a sound financial base to take forward.
Just to expand further on why you think it's a step back—give us a bit more detail on that.
Because the White Paper talks about national standards, and we welcome that—I think that's somewhere where we need to go—but to illustrate Andrew's point a little more, what underpins taxi licensing is a funding regime, a fees regime, that probably needs revisiting. And when the Welsh Government took legislative competence for this back in 2017, it was suggested that that change could be made. When you make that change—when you make the funding regime more robust—I think you can progress things a little quicker than you can under this current White Paper proposal.
But isn't legislation and funding—? Some would say that legislation and funding are separate. So, the legislation comes forward and the funding would come later.
Well, the 1976 legislation dictates at the moment what local authorities can recover by way of fees for operating taxi and private-hire vehicle licensing, and it is not on a full cost recovery basis. So, the councils have to put some of their own revenue support grant money in to enforce the law against drivers. And it's miscreant drivers, particularly in Cardiff—we have big challenges there that take a lot of resource.
Are there any other areas in terms of taking a step back that you mentioned that you want to raise?
I think there's no provision in the White Paper at the moment for mandatory training throughout the industry, and that would extend to councillors, to officers and to operators. So, I think the Welsh Government holds a lot of information that we provided and co-produced in 2017 in this area that they're not fully exploiting in the White Paper.
Okay. Thank you. Joyce Watson.
Good morning, all. I want to just ask some questions, really, about the proposal relating to the enhanced quality partnerships, and the processes that will have to be gone through, I suppose, for those to work. How likely is it in reality that local authorities will use the approach as suggested?
I think the White Paper offers a number of additional responses, if you like, to deal with the issues around bus, in particular. But if we look at the issues that are affecting bus, particularly in terms of patronage and its share of transport, the main issues, really, are around congestion slowing up journeys and reducing the attractiveness of using public transport. There's the issue around dilution of our own town centres, so the demand to travel to those nodes, then, that were traditionally served by bus stations is also diminishing, along with the online shopping. And we've got the growth of the white vans then adding to the congestion there. We've got the push for cleaner buses which is adding to costs in terms of running bus services. So, the cost is then affecting the fares, and that is then, in turn, affecting the patronage. So, we've got a vicious circle of issues that we need to break through. There are things in the White Paper that can help us, but I think, when we come to the crunch, it is about capital investment towards bus priority. We need to enable buses to have reliable and faster journey times, and that's at the heart of the problem.
Anybody want to add anything to that?
Just to say on the enhanced quality partnerships, I think it's another tool for local authorities that they can potentially deploy in their discussions with the operators, but the process as set out in the White Paper still looks quite complicated. You've actually got to get an agreement with all the operators, then you've got to go out and consult with the general public, and then, if there's any further changes as a result of that consultation, you've got to go back to the operators and discuss those changes. So, it's quite an involved and complex process, which is quite resource intensive as well. So, there are capacity issues for local authorities in trying to go through what is quite a resource-intensive process.
Have you got any solutions for identified issues? Is there anything you can give us to suggest as a way forward, apart from money and—?
The resourcing is the key to this, really, because if we're going to take it forward, then it needs to be resourced properly, so that it can be done in a meaningful way. Otherwise, we will be doing this on a shoestring, and that will be destined to fail. So, if we're going to go down these routes, we need to know that local authorities will have the funding to allow them to do it in a meaningful way.
The capacity and capability in terms of staffing resources is diluted across the 22 authorities at the moment, and I think the introduction of joint transport authorities allows you to coalesce those in one place and bring that expertise together and enables you to plan more effectively across a region. So, I think that will be an important step forward.
Okay. Thank you.
Thank you. I've got some questions on bus franchising. First of all, what are your views on the proposals to introduce bus franchising powers? What do you think the advantages and disadvantages of that approach might be?
I think I'd go back to the point that Tim made initially around the regulatory impact. It would have been interesting to see that, and we'd anticipated seeing some sort of costing around the implications of franchising. Of the things we know, then, in terms of the pros, it would allow you to plan an integrated, co-ordinated network of services, eliminate some of the competition that is on the wasteful side out there now between operators. So, it could be better co-ordinated.
The downside is that the cost of doing that—there hasn't been a figure arrived at, or any work done around that for Wales, as far as I'm aware. What we can draw parallels with is with London. We know there that the subsidised cost, the investment that's been made in public transport, is around £76 per head of population. For Wales, it's more like £10. So, if you think that Transport for London and the franchising there is always held up as the exemplar, whereas, in fact, you've got a very, very dense urban population, you've got very low car ownership, even compared to Wales, you've got red routes, you've got congestion charging. It is really geared up to keep cars out of the centre and benefit public transport. But, even there, the patronage is reduced. We've seen recently the challenges with budgeting and keeping that level of service.
So, I think we need to be very careful. I think franchising is a very useful tool to have up your sleeve in certain circumstances, but I think it would be problematic if we see that as the model of transport going forward, unless we're prepared to invest significant sums of money, far, far beyond anything that we're contemplating or can see on the horizon.
If we're thinking in particular about the evolution of the south Wales metro, which, at its inception, was supposed to be a truly integrated public transport system—. Okay, the work done around trains so far is fantastic, but I'm personally disappointed by the absence of buses within that and the implications for our most disadvantaged communities who are furthest from the railway line. So, if we're looking at evolving the metro into that truly integrated transport system over the next 10 or 20 years, would bus franchising be the answer to that or would it be something else?
I suspect that we'll—. Integration can take a number of forms. I think the big change that is needed is around how we pay for the service—how we pay for the transport services. So, if we can get an integrated ticketing system that would take the fares right across the whole range of transport modes and integrate those so that you pay once and the forms of payment are there and open and common across all the different modes, then that would give you a big step forward, and you'd have clearer information between the various modes, so the way of finding them would be a lot easier, and I think technology will take us there.
And there's a lot of work going on at the moment, through Transport for Wales, looking at these opportunities around integration. The bit that franchising might give you beyond that would be to have a planned timetable, but if bus has a role in this, then it has to complement the rail services and work together with the rail services, and I think the operators are starting to see that that is their role going forward, and that is probably the best way that they're going to keep a margin and a profitable business—by working together to complement rail rather than trying to compete with it.
Could I come back on that link with the metro? We have had discussions with Transport for Wales and they are looking at what changes are needed to the bus network, but it's going to come at probably a significant cost around, in particular, capital. If you think that the south Wales metro is £134 million in its current phase, that's without many additional new stations and without extending lines. It probably needs about another £0.5 billion to a £1 billion over a period of time to do the extensions and the further upgrades that are needed. It is going to be a programme of 10-15 years or longer. But if you compare that funding against what is spent on bus intervention—bus intervention in terms of bus gateways, improving junctions, and bus lanes—we're talking single millions, and that's across Wales.
So, even if all of the local transport pinch-point funding came out as £26 million, that isn't all spent on bus, but even if it was, that's £26 million across all of Wales. There will need to be a significant change, probably, in the future, around if we are going to really make buses more rapid-transit—the option, other than train, because in some cases, clearly, we can't lay train lines, but also in terms of the number of volumes of people who travel, buses are really disproportionately funded versus train. So, where we keep talking about the metro as the train, but comparing the two, that is on the extreme end of the funding scale, compared to bus, whereas both capital and revenue in the future are going to be a real pressure.
So, to sum up, then, are you telling us as a committee that you fear that funding is the issue to really make change and not the way that powers are utilised around buses, or does it have to be a combination of both?
I would say it needs to be a combination of both. I think that the powers and the changes alone won't deliver because, as Mr Waters was saying, if buses are held up in congestion, they don't become the choice of the public to travel. Fewer people on board the bus means that costs have to go up or services stop, so we need to have that rapid bus transit in locations that we've talked about over a number of years alongside the rail side of the metro. But that is going to mean some changes in regulation, potentially, in the way that they operate services, but, in particular, in how we fund direct services and how we fund the infrastructure to make sure they are an option as a mode of travel.
If franchising is the preferred option and goes ahead, how do you think that would work best on the ground? Would it be on a route-by-route basis or whole areas, and what kind of areas do you think might be the best footprint? So, to give an example, for instance, Cynon Valley is within the Cardiff capital region, but the vast majority of casework I get complaining about a lack of bus services is the need for a direct bus route from Aberdare to Swansea, which, therefore, crosses three different authority boundaries and there are difficulties with that. So, how would all of those kind of issues work on the ground, because I'm sure that that example I gave could be replicated across many other areas of Wales?
I think there was a perception a few years ago that maybe bus companies were making undue profits, or franchising, perhaps, was seen as a way of sharing some of the profits from the busiest routes to subsidise other routes or maybe weekend services or night-time services and so on. I think the work that Welsh Government has done with TAS, which was highlighted at the bus summit, clearly shows that there isn't a huge profit in bus. I think that the operating profit that they would expect in order to invest in viable bus services runs between 10 and 13 per cent. And, actually, in Wales, I don't think any bus company has gone beyond 10 per cent, I think they quoted, in the last 24 years. So, there isn't that profit out there to share from the busiest routes to the less busiest routes and cross-subsidise. I don't think it's out there. So, if you wanted to pick individual routes off, you'd be dealing with incumbent operators. You'd need a fleet and so on, and I think the knock-on implications of that are quite significant. Some of the work around franchising that's going on in other areas—. Feasibility in Greater Manchester—I think they're up to about £11.5 million on feasibility. So, it's probably more than we're spending on pinch points.
That's very interesting. There's clearly not a simple answer, then, is there? If franchising were to come in, would local authorities have sufficient resources to actually deal with that?
I would say 'no' at the moment, but as any organisation would do, we would buy in expertise from elsewhere—people with experience—probably the people that Greater Manchester are using at the moment.
And what about local authority funding cycles—would that create a challenge as well?
If you're going to run a franchise, then, really, you're buying into a very long-term proposition. It's not a flash in the pan. You need to think about fleet, you need to think about depots, so it's a huge and long-term commitment.
Thank you. I've got one final question on bus franchising, and this will be for Andrew Morgan. The WLGA response to the Welsh Government consultation said that the White Paper stops short of suggesting a more radical option of reregulating bus services across the board. Do you feel that that would be a desirable outcome—reregulation?
It is an option that Welsh Government—if all options are on the table, it's something that should be considered. At the meeting of all cabinet members across Wales, it was raised by some of the mid and north Wales members in particular, where they've had some real difficulties in areas with bus operators. It was something that was suggested there and we did have a debate on it. It was something that was raised with the Minister. The Minister, I believe, answered openly in saying that he would consider that if that was something that was ultimately needed. But I think that the intention is to look at all options to see actually what suits and what works best.
I would say, about coming back to the regional working element—certainly, from my authority, we are really keen on the regional working. I think that if the joint transport authorities—. We've already got a joint committee in south Wales, alongside the Cardiff city deal. We are quite clear that transport doesn't end at county boundaries, so unless we do look at it, either on an all-Wales basis, which would be ideal in terms of technology and changes we're going to bring in, or on a sub-regional basis—unless we do that, then we're just setting ourselves up to fail. So, I think all options should be on the table.
Okay. Thank you, Chair.
Can I ask what you think about the proposals to give local authorities the power to run local bus services themselves?
I think generally it's been welcomed. Again, at that meeting, with all council cabinet members there for transport, it was generally welcomed, I think, to give that. But the difficulty is, giving the examples of Newport and Cardiff, they don't come without their challenges in terms of costs. Again, it is worth while having the additional powers to do it, I think, as an additional lever or additional card that you hold. But, for me, I have to say, it wouldn't be the first option to consider for my own authority.
Okay. I remember the days of the inter-valley link in Rhymney valley district council. My father was a councillor and he was a director on inter-valley link and you did see a good service from the local authority. Do you think that, in these times, though, that kind of service couldn't feasibly be provided?
Because of austerity, I think probably we couldn't. The difference I would say is, with public service-run bus services, largely—unless, unfortunately, because of austerity, cutbacks are being made—they are there to deliver for the public. Just to remind you that Stagecoach, while they provide a public service in terms of buses, are there to make a profit. So, ultimately, there is a tension between delivering what residents need and want and actually what is affordable. So, I think if local authorities were to take it on, we'd have to accept that there would be a significant subsidy needed to do that. But, of course, it would be within our gift, then, to provide the services that residents and people need to commute et cetera.
It would give you control, but the overall weight of cost would outweigh the benefit of moving away from subsidy.
I think it would be prohibitive at this time, unless there was new specific funding set aside to cover that.
Okay. And is there a conflict of interest in the fact that local authorities in those circumstances would both be commissioning and delivering the service?
I suppose—. I don't know what officers would say, but there are a number of areas, I think, where local authorities already operate like that, in terms of providing services. So, my own view is, no, I think as long we are quite clear why we are doing it and what we're doing, I wouldn't see an issue with that, unless there's concern—I'm not aware of that.
It's an interesting problem, isn't it? You're competing with the people you're procuring—. Tim.
As Councillor Morgan says, as long as it's open and transparent, there are probably ways you can deal with it, but I accept the point you're making. There's a potential conflict of interest there, if you're getting information about services and then you're competing against people. But I think if the local authorities are getting involved, it's not so much to compete, it's more to make sure that the services that aren't being provided by the commercial sector are provided to the public. So, it would be complementing rather than competing.
And that just comes back again to the problem that if you're setting up a bus service to fill a gap in a market, then that's not ever going to be cost-effective in any meaningful way. Okay.
And also, within the White Paper, there are proposals for information sharing, and at the moment there's no duty on local authorities to share information across boundaries. What are your views, as a panel, on that?
I think the sharing of information is absolutely fine and welcomed. As long as it isn't too onerous or costly, then there's no issue.
I think the WLGA has welcomed a duty to share information across boundaries.
Okay, thank you.
Thank you. I've got some questions around the concessionary fares and the proposal to increase the age eligibility on those. First of all, how do you think that might impact on older people if the bar is raised there?
We did discuss it with the chairs. There is a potential concern that you would have a group of people that were expecting to get their concessionary pass and it would be delayed. That potentially could mean that more people continue driving rather than moving over to the use of the buses, so there could be a delay there. I think the other major issue that came up was around the equity issue of it, especially for those that are just about to become eligible. If you push it back a year and then the next year you push it back a year, for a certain cohort of people, they're going to miss out for a number of years. One of the things we were discussing was whether there were different ways that perhaps you could look at saving on the concessionary fares. We all recognise the pressure on the budget. The White Paper comes forward with one proposal, which is moving the eligibility age forward, but there are other options that could be looked at, which could include things like limiting the time of day that the passes are eligible. One suggestion was that people get a card with an allocation for the year, and then when your allocation is used up you have to pay. So, there are other options rather than just changing the eligibility age. Whilst that might be the best way forward, I think the view was that there should be a bit of a consultation on that to gauge people's views.
And, as you said there, this could lead to more people within that age cohort choosing to use their cars rather than buses, which could come back to that cyclical problem about patronage as well, and I'm just wondering if any thought has been given or what views you might have about whether extending the age of MyTravelPass might fill that gap, or is it too soon to say?
It's a sort of anecdotal issue, really, I guess, around the age and cut-off. One of the outcomes is that I've got staff that have hit 60 that now leave their cars at home and use their free bus pass to come to work. I don't think that was ever the intention of introducing the free pass, but, actually, it is achieving some mode shift. Look, I think there are options. Car ownership in the younger generation is much lower, and traditionally I think they're more attached to their phones than a car. So, the opportunity to promote bus there I think is a good one, and we should push that if at all possible and if it's affordable.
Okay, thank you.
I'd like to discuss the White Paper proposal regarding taxi and private-hire vehicles and particularly look at the national standards and whether you think that there should be a mandatory single set of standards or some flexibility allowed to local authorities.
The local authorities do support the use of national standards. The White Paper is very clear about perceptions that the public have about taxi provision across Wales. So, introducing national standards should deal with a lot of the perceptions about the industry. In terms of the council's ability to change those, if we construct those standards properly in the first place, there shouldn't be any great need to change them, and if there are any local issues in particular, I think what we'd like to see is some form of necessity test put in place that a local authority that wishes to move away from a national standard would need to have very good reason to do it, and maybe that could be subject to some sort of assessment by the Welsh Government, who would have legislative control over those standards.
So, we do think national standards are good. I think the standards we'd like to see introduced would look at the suitability of applicants who want to be drivers, who want to be operators, that improve knowledge in the local area, that improve the design, appearance, performance of vehicles. We've just touched on the green agenda, and in Cardiff, in particular, there are 3,000 vehicles: 1,440 hackney carriages—sorry, in my shared regulatory services region—and 1,600 private-hire vehicles. That's a lot of vehicles on the road, but if they start to move to low-emission vehicles, it would be good. That would be an excellent national standard, and standards on closed-circuit television and record-keeping, because I think what we have to remember is taxi licensing was brought into being to protect the public. It isn't a competition piece of legislation. It's about public protection, public safety. We put our children in taxis, we put the elderly and the vulnerable in taxis to transport them to hospital, and due to the night-time economy in Cardiff, there are some very vulnerable people in the early hours of the morning who use taxis to go home. So, those national standards would underpin, with the proposals on enforcement, some big improvements, I think, in the taxi-licensing regime.
Okay. We've heard evidence—. You distinguished immediately there between private hire and the other types of taxis, and that's been one of the things that have come out, that people don't know the difference and don't understand the difference—'hackney' was the word I was looking for, I think. So, is there anything that we need to do? Do we need to do anything about those differences?
The local authority responses to the White Paper are saying we should move to one tier of vehicle, that we shouldn't have differences. That view was in a slight minority. The majority of the respondents wanted to keep the same thing. But that's interesting in itself because the majority of those respondents didn't know the difference between what is a hackney carriage and a private-hire vehicle. So, local authorities do what they can—and I brought some things with me and I'll leave them with you—to try and show to members of the public what the difference is, because it is an important difference; small cards about making sure you understand what's going to happen and the differences between using a hackney carriage and a private-hire vehicle. So, we would like to see 'taxi' mean hackney carriage, private hire—no difference—but that's not what the current legislation allows for at the moment. We, as regulators, take the view that that, again, would improve the situation and improve public safety, again.
And the final thing, really, on this, was the big issue that's been coming up time and time again—and you will have heard it yourself—cross-border working.
Yes. So, 'cross-border hiring' is a term that's not found in the legislation, and, essentially, it's a term that the trade use to describe where a taxi or a private-hire vehicle that is licensed by one authority predominantly operates in another. So, the three councils I work for all border Andrew's authority. So, if a private-hire vehicle that is perfectly legitimately licensed by Rhondda Cynon Taf were to operate in Cardiff or the Vale of Glamorgan or Bridgend, in law, there's nothing wrong with that. The problem being, of course, that it impacts quite sharply upon drivers who are licensed in the Cardiff area or the RCT or Vale or Bridgend areas.
So, one of the things we'd like to see is the Welsh Government introduce a change that says that, if you are licensed by a particular authority and you do take fares, the journey should either start or finish in the local authority area within which you are licensed. And that should mean, then, that that would provide a more equitable trading environment for those drivers who feel they're being unfairly discriminated against. And the earlier conversation we had around national standards, of course, would mean that there wouldn't be a rush to a licensing authority that was perceived to be easier to get a licence from, because the industry would be operating on a more—I hate the term—level playing field, and we should see some equity in the industry. And this is where I guess I started from, where we were disappointed in the current proposals, because these are the things we were asking the Welsh Government to do two years ago, and we're still nowhere near there yet.
Okay. I think we've covered—
On the issue of cross-border working—because this is an area of significant concern, especially from the taxi and private-hire vehicle industry—I've heard what you've said, but this is something that we certainly need to address in our conclusions. So, can you give us, perhaps, some examples? I want to understand the specific examples of the impact on the local authority, the impact for the passenger, the impact for the industry, as the law stands now.
Okay. The White Paper does actually say, doesn't it, that the proposals brought forward are not intended to alter the current position on out-of-area working? I've written that down to remind myself. So, the White Paper is fairly clear; it isn't going to deal with it. Again, I've brought with me the Queen's bench division judgment on a case in Reading Borough Council. In that, it accepts that the idea of cross-border working is not illegal, and it's a consequence of [correction: and the debate flows from differing interpretations of] the Deregulation Act of 2015.
So, what are the practical problems?
The practical problems: if I were a driver in Cardiff, I would take the view that Cardiff's licensing standards, Cardiff's licensing requirements, are probably amongst the most robust in Wales, and for good reason. And they have a perception that drivers are able to get licences in the surrounding authorities—not in Andrew's—that are easier to obtain, and therefore it's cheaper to get one from a neighbouring authority, and then I can just come and work in Cardiff. Cardiff drivers would say, 'Well, these drivers don't have the knowledge of the city, and they are taking money away from us.'
So, this is a problem for—it's not a problem for the driver because they're benefiting. Is it a problem for the local authority?
The local authority has the challenges then, because the current legislation doesn't allow us to enforce fully against drivers who are licensed by another council. We have to pass that information to that particular council, and they would then deal with it.
I think what we're also seeing—and the legislation at the moment doesn't deal with this—is the increase in app-based booking. So, traditionally, if we wanted to get a taxi, we would phone or we'd stand in the rain at a hackney carriage rank until one turned up. And, to that extent, maybe the industry was providing a service and had the balance of power. I think that's turned upside down now with the advent of app-based booking through Uber and Ola, and Dragon is a local one in Cardiff, where you can hit your phone and, within minutes, you know who's coming to collect you, you know the registration of the vehicle, you know where they're going to pick you up. And I would take the view that public protection is significantly enhanced in that context, as opposed to standing at a hackney carriage rank when you don't know who's going to come next.
So, what's the problem for the passenger, then, as the law stands now?
I don't think there are any issues for passengers. Passengers now have greater choice. The legislation probably needs to catch up with the advent of app-based booking, and the legislation needs to catch up with the use of GPS-type tracking instead of traditional taxi pulse meters.
The issue for drivers is they perceive that—. If a Cardiff driver was next to me, this is what he'd say: he feels now disadvantaged because other people are coming into this city and taking his livelihood or her livelihood. And that isn't an offence under the current taxi regime because the taxi licensing regime is not intended to deal with that; it's intended to deal with public safety and public protection.
So, just to close this off, other than what you've already answered to Joyce Watson, is there anything else that needs to be addressed in terms of the cross-border issues that are being raised, particularly from the taxi and private-hire industry?
I think that if the national standards come in, as the White Paper proposes, that we are given enhanced enforcement powers, that much of the issue around cross-border hiring will start to dissipate. But the Welsh Government could do more to assist that as well.
There is one other point.
Okay. On the cross-border? Yes. Joyce.
Yes, well, there's one other point that I think we need to mention altogether. You've quite rightly talked about protecting the customer, but on the table that I was on, there was also the issue about protecting the driver, the employee with their terms and conditions and safety. Is there adequate protection and thought in this Bill for their terms and conditions, particularly Uber—let's put it on the table—and their practices?
And if I could widen that question out to all app-based bookings—Uber and all app-based bookings—what perhaps is needed in legislation to deal with any issues?
I think employment matters, terms and conditions—what Uber negotiate with drivers who go to work with them are outside the scope of taxi legislation. If your question, as posed, was about the safety of the drivers, we would like to see national standards introduced about CCTV, for instance, in taxis and private-hire vehicles. We see a lot of complaints against drivers that they've misbehaved, and a lot of those complaints are unsubstantiated, but have put the drivers through some significant stress, and that's not fair. And, quite often, people will make allegations against them, not follow them up, not substantiate them, and, actually, as a licence and enforcement officer, if the CCTV was available, I could look at that and I could determine a course of action far quicker. So, there's a great deal of protection, I think, to be achieved in that respect, but the employment matters are outside the scope of our current legislation.
Vikki, you wanted to come in.
Yes, please. We had a stakeholder event a few weeks ago, and one of the key themes to emerge from that was disappointment from the community transport sector who felt that the role that they play had been totally under-represented in the White Paper. And, of course, we know that they do play a crucial role in filling so many of the gaps within bus provision across Wales. So, I just wanted to gauge your opinion, really, as a panel: do you feel that the White Paper is a missed opportunity when it comes to the role of community transport and what really should we be looking for from that sector?
I just turned to Mr Waters to say that that was a point I wanted to raise at the end if we were asked for any other points—it was about community transport. I do think that now it needs to be recognised that, in an awful lot of communities, community transport is the backbone of the transport network because regular bus services have been withdrawn. I know Welsh Government is looking at various pilots about booking services, a demand-led service, but there's also, I think, a lot of lost opportunities with community transport.
I'm sure Mr Waters can speak about some of the issues community transport are facing around current regulation changes. So, for example, a number of community transport providers in our area also provide school transport, which is a source of income to them that helps their overall business model stack up. Because of the changes in legislation, and also the licensing legislation, that means that it's making it more difficult for them to win those sort of contracts and to undertake that sort of work. But also, there have been—and we had a discussion yesterday with Welsh Government—discussions that have gone on for an awful long time that there are other opportunities around, for example, non-emergency ambulance services, where we've got ambulance technicians and ambulances taking people back and forth to hospital appointments and clinics et cetera, and the unit cost per journey is something like three or four times the cost of what it would be via community transport. So, I think there's a missed opportunity there, where, actually, we need to look at where all the vehicles are travelling in Wales and come up with a different model. But community transport, I think, is not only playing a vital role; it's probably going to play, in some areas, unless there is a significant turnaround in funding—it's probably going to play a bigger role in the future, because a lot of communities, if they're not on a main line, if they're not on a profitable route that is run on a commercial basis, it's unlikely a local authority can afford to step in to subsidise the service. And therefore, the only alternative is a community transport-led operation. But in terms of the licensing issue, I don't know if perhaps you want to cover the difficulties we're currently facing.
It's more around the issue of the anticipation that perhaps community transport operators are working under a different regulatory environment, and therefore, because they're grant funded as well, have, perhaps, an unfair competitive advantage where they're tendering for contracts for school transport, adult services and those sorts of contracts within the local authority environment. I think they run vehicles that are especially adapted for their purposes and they're particularly useful to local authorities in transporting children with additional learning needs and so on. So, they're an important part of the fleet. And for the community transport operators, the contracts that they have then form an important part of their revenue stream to keep the services going. So, it would be helpful to find a way through that particular muddle at the moment that benefits everybody.
Because otherwise it will lead to community transport operators going out of business, or it will end up that they'll need a bigger grant subsidy from local authorities, because without that issue being resolved, there are only two outcomes.
To give a specific example, you'll be aware, Andrew, of the pilot that's currently being done as part of the Valleys taskforce with the bus service in the Rhondda, for shift workers to reach factories in good time for work, where public transport wouldn't actually manage to fulfil that role. And just this week, I've been contacted by people from community transport who said that this is basically reinventing the wheel and that, many years ago, community transport did similar sorts of things. So, would you see that that could be an area where they could fill that gap and also make themselves more financially viable as well?
Potentially, if they have the capacity—because there used to be the Bwcabus service, so this is very similar to the model that was in place 10 or 15 years ago. And actually, in Cynon Valley at the time, it was one of the early ones that were piloted, going back over 20 years ago, by the Cynon Valley borough council—the Bwcabus service was piloted. So, I think we are probably going back, hopefully not reinventing the wheel, but I think going back to looking at actually the benefit of having that type of demand-response service. But that needs to be part of a joined-up picture, and, at present, it does feel and look as though it's quite sporadic.
Can I just add to that? I think it's really important that we look at it as a whole system. Talking about buses, trains, taxis and active travel, we tend to work on them all in isolation. It's really important that we do see that whole integrated picture, because changes to the taxi regime will have impacts on people's ability to use taxis, which has a knock-on effect on whether they use the bus or not, or whether they decide to use active travel. And we do need to make sure that we look at the whole system. That's why, I think, when we said about co-producing the next stage, the level of knowledge within local authorities about their local patch is vital to getting it right. And we want those discussions to take place now so that we don't have a stab in the dark and say, 'Well, let's try this and let's try that' and put it into the legislation—it's to actually work it through and say, 'Well, if we do this, what would happen in your local area?' And then, I think it's a more informed way forward.
We'll come to the last set of questions in a moment, but at the end of the session, I'll just give you an opportunity to raise any other points that you think are relevant that haven't been drawn out through questions today as well. So, just bear that in mind. Hefin David.
The next logical question regarding local knowledge is: do we really need a national joint transport authority?
Currently, my view is that I'm not sure what the national joint transport authority would do—
No, we aren't either.
—because if we're looking to have the three/four regional ones, which is our preferred option—I think it's generally what we think is the way forward—we don't see a reason for a national one. But it's unclear at present what the national one would be for, and we'd be concerned about are we layering the system or fragmenting it.
From a technical point of view, can you see a technical role for a national JTA?
One of the things that we have had recently is a meeting of the four chairs of the city deal and growth deal partnerships with the Minister and Deputy Minister to discuss national co-ordination on economic development issues. A similar discussion of that nature with the four chairs of the regional transport bodies—you could have an equivalent national co-ordination discussion, and you could link the transport and economic development discussions together, because they're so inter-related. So, we feel that a tight meeting like that with the people responsible for transport in each of the regions with the Minister and Deputy Minister would have a huge benefit in terms of co-ordination, as opposed to trying to bring together a meeting that could involve 30 or 40 people. You know, where do you hold that, and all the logistical arrangements about trying to get those meetings set up. So, bringing together the people who are central to overseeing transport in each of their regions with the Minister and Deputy Minister would seem to be a way forward. Obviously, there are other partners—
But that's not really a JTA, is it?
It's not a JTA, no, but it's a national co-ordination mechanism.
Okay, but that could be done through Transport for Wales, I suppose, that kind of co-ordination. There's a body that already exists that is responsible—Transport for Wales.
Bringing together other stakeholders like Transport for Wales into those discussions would be important, but keeping it fairly tight.
Yes. Okay. So you don't really see the need for a national JTA; you'd rather see the regional JTA proposal, but without a national on top of that.
That was generally the view supported in the all-Wales meeting.
Yes, that's the view that I gave, really. It was prior to us submitting our consultation responses on the RTA, but, when I attended with Iwan Prys-Jones, our view was exactly what has just been expressed—we didn't understand the role of the JTA and through the co-production of the next White Paper, maybe the illumination would come with that, and we'd understand the role. But as we saw it, we have the Welsh Government at the top, supported by Transport for Wales. They're setting the national policy, and the regional bodies then will put that in place on the ground. There's a role for Transport for Wales in some of the big and difficult things that are Wales-wide, and they're getting on with that at the moment. There doesn't seem to be any issue with them doing that in the current scenario.
So, we'll take the point that you'd support regional JTAs. Would you say that the role of regional JTAs with regard to bus, private hire and taxis all together is clear within the White Paper—and the responsibility of JTAs?
I take the view that the taxi industry is in need of reform. It's not an industry in crisis by any stretch but it needs some reform, and the White Paper talks about a joint transport authority, but there's very little detail as to what it is, what it looks like, what it'll do. To my mind, that probably reflects the Welsh Government's lack of understanding about how the taxi and private-hire industry actually operates. I do think there's some scope for regional working. My own organisation covers three different licensing authorities, and we manage that well. And local authorities are good at joining things up, aren't they, and collaborating? I think there's an opportunity that the Welsh Government should give us to deal with these issues, particularly on taxis and private hire.
So, with regard to licensing, you say there's three in the area that you cover—three local authorities that are responsible for licensing. Would that be easier, then, just to give the licensing responsibilities to a regional JTA, so that it covers a broader area?
I think it should stay with the local authorities. Local authorities are good at what they do and, as I say, we've been asking for reform of the taxi legislation for some years. If these national standards come into place, you will see improvements. And I don't think handing it to a body that doesn't have a lot of knowledge is the right thing to do. If you want to reduce the number of licensing authorities, well, let the local authorities deliver it regionally, because we're good at it.
But isn't that what a regional JTA would do?
Is a JTA a local authority-delivered vehicle? I don't know; there's not enough detail in the White Paper.
Okay. So, there are further questions we could ask the Government on that in that regard. Okay. That's helpful. Thank you.
I did give an opportunity—. If there's anything you think that's important for us to consider in terms of making our conclusions and recommendations to Government that haven't been drawn out through discussion today, then please tell us; give us that feedback now.
The one point I'd end with is just reiterating what I've said, and what Tim said, about that we need to make sure that the next piece of work, if this goes forward, is co-produced between local authorities, making sure that the knowledge on the ground from the local authorities is put in as part of whatever Bill is taken forward. But also, just picking up one point that the Member said, that this can't just be done by Welsh Government in terms of Transport for Wales et cetera, because for an awful lot of what we do, actually, the power sits with us; it doesn't sit with Welsh Government. So, for example, the highway authorities, in terms of some of the stuff we want to do about changing, say, bus priorities, and various other implementation work to make the package work—those powers sit with local authorities, not with Welsh Government.
So, that's why we're saying that four regional transport authorities we think would be the way forward, and simply having a co-ordination board with the Minister and Deputy Minister to make sure we are all joined up on the same page, working under the same policy for Welsh Government, and in partnership with Transport for Wales and others. But I think unless we are there right from the start, rather than the next piece of work coming out to us for us to be consulted on as local authorities, and then us going back and pointing out all the faults and saying where we should change things—. I hope the commitment we've had can be followed through; that we do genuinely work on this together, because I think local authorities are really supportive of taking this forward, but we just need to make sure it's done in the right way.
I think there's a lot that local authorities do in terms of joining up locally that goes unnoticed. We're talking about transport issues here, but we were talking just before we came in about the way that the work that local authorities do on transport links in to so many other services. I don't know, Roger, whether—.
In both directions, actually, because through the city deals now we've got commitments around economic development. We've got commitments around bringing forward strategic development plans on land use, and transport is part of the triangle of taking that forward. So, there's a linkage piece, probably, around the regional cabinets to get all of this co-ordinated, and then, when you transfer back the other way, down to the local authority level, you'd anticipate the public transport elements of the local authorities transferring into the JTAs. But within a local authority environment, public transport is run as an integrated transport unit in most cases, so they'll be providing all the schools transport and support around that. They may be doing things like school crossing patrols. They may be doing things like road safety strategy. They'll also be looking at transport planning and developing transport plans for the individual local authorities. But in a future JTA, you would think that the JTA would be bringing forward the regional transport plans. So, roll that down another tier; Councillor Morgan highlighted the role of highways authorities. You've also got the enforcement, traffic management, and the whole co-ordination piece around that, and liaison with utility workers. So, there's a massive backdrop to all of this that needs co-ordinating on a wider piece. So, the JTAs would still need to have very, very strong routes back into the local authorities, and, of course, the governance then for the JTAs would be back with, presumably, leaders or cabinet members of the local authorities anyway. So, that tie-up would be very strong.
Okay. Your views around that are clear. Thank you. Dave Holland.
Just going back to taxis and private hire, I just think there are too many grey areas in the current legislation. So, local authorities are operating against a backdrop of uncertainty because of the frailty of that legislation. The Welsh Government now has legislative competence and a golden opportunity to deal with these things. The current White Paper falls short of that. We've used the word 'co-production' a few times now, and I think the knowledge inside the councils, coupled with the Welsh Government's legislative competence, is a fantastic opportunity to improve—a key word, isn't it, 'improve'—public transport.
It sounds like you're writing our report there. [Laughter.] There's a lot of what you said that I can see will come out in our report. Thank you, Dave Holland, for that. Can I thank the witnesses for their time this morning? We'll send you a transcript of proceedings to look over, and if there are any additional comments, then please let us know. But we're very grateful for your time with us this morning. Thank you.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Item 4. Under Standing Order 17.42, can I have Members' approval to exclude members of the public from the remainder of the meeting? Thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:34.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:34.