HC Deb 21 May 1980 vol 985 cc484-5
9. Mr. Iain Mills

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on the future of the road construction units.

Mr. Fowler

I announced on 6 March, following the Rayner scrutiny of the road construction unit organisation, my policy decision to phase out sub-units by transferring their work to consultants and county councils. I have recently completed discussions with the interested organisations on the detailed policy guidelines for the action study, which will reach decisions on the individual schemes and sub-units. The action study will start very shortly, once I have published the White Paper on roads.

Mr. Mills

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be glad to hear that many hon. Members who are interested in roads support his action. Can he give some idea of the time scale and of the nature of reduction of staff that this will involve—particularly in the sub-units—and of any further plans he may have beyond that?

Mr. Fowler

The aim is to complete the action study in about three months in order to start savings. At the moment, there are about 1,700 people in the RCU sub-units. Therefore, there should be substantial reductions in public sector manpower in that area. I stress that that is in addition to the 18 per cent. reduction within the Department of Transport which I have already announced.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that no matter what he does about the reduction in the construction units, the road conditions in this country are in a terrible plight? What does he intend to do about improving the maintenance of roads that have been allowed to deteriorate under the previous two or three Governments? Does he realise that severe accidents are being caused by motorists seeking to avoid ruts in the road?

Mr. Fowler

I am not sure that there is a great deal of evidence to support the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I agree with him that maintenance must be a priority. There is no case for saying that there must be some shift of resources from investment to maintenance. We take that very seriously and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members think that the RCUs are a total waste of time and money, that they have not justified their existence and should be scrapped in toto?

Mr. Fowler

In that case my hon. Friend will be in sympathy with the kind of proposals that I am bringing forward. My major aim is to give more work to private consultants in this area. They already carry out an enormous amount of export work, and it makes a great deal of sense to give them a home base.