HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc734-6
4. Mr. Neubert

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what criteria he uses to assess the efficiency and productivity of passenger transport executives in major conurbations; and how London Transport compares in these respects.

Mr. David Howell

Detailed comparisons of relative LT performance would require large-scale analysis, but I understand that in 1980 LT bus costs, for example, were 40 per cent. higher than those of the passenger transport executives, and its vehicle miles per staff employed were far and away the lowest compared with PTEs, municipal operators and the National Bus Company.

Mr. Neubert

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is all too easy to talk about cheaper fares and increased grants without too much thought about where the cash will come from? Will he ensure that in any conclusions he reaches on London Transport the highest priority is given to the control of costs and an improvement in efficiency, otherwise public subsidies will be no better than in a bottomless bucket?

Mr. Howell

Fares in London are certainly too high, but my hon. Friend is correct. There is ample scope for the GLC to get fares down and to increase efficiency, given the very large subsidy that it already receives, and has received in the past, and given the enormous opportunities, one of which I have indicated in my answer, for cutting costs and increasing efficiency. Having recently visited various European cities to see their transport systems, I am absolutely convinced that the GLC has plenty of opportunity to cut costs, increase efficiency and reduce fares if only it takes that opportunity.

Mr. Dobson

We understand from press statements that the Secretary of State is considering the possibility of, in effect, renationalising London Transport and taking it away from the GLC. In those circumstances, does he intend to fund and subsidise London Transport in the future entirely from the taxpayer so that, unique among all the conurbations, the ratepayers of London would no longer make a contribution to keeping fares down?

Mr. Howell

A number of proposals have been made, including ones by the chairman of London Transport, for a reorganisation of the relationship between the GLC and LT and possibly a divorce between the two. I have indicated that the Government are also considering those proposals and the possibilities of a new transport structure. However, the first requirement is that, instead of merely asking for the law to be restored and rates again to go up, the GLC should get on with the opportunities available to it. If it does not, as was said earlier, more fundamental changes will have to be considered.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Do not these figures demonstrate that the GLC is incapable of running London Transport? Is it not essential not merely to take London Transport away from the GLC, but to abolish that ridiculous body?

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend tempts me on to wider questions. The issue of whether there should be a separate transport authority, possibly both rate and tax-funded, or whether it should continue to be part of the GLC, is now on the table. The Select Committee on Transport is looking at this, and I look forward with the greatest interest to its proposals.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Get rid of the GLC. That is the answer.

Mr. Booth

If the Secretary of State feels strongly about the efficiency of the London Transport Executive, as compared with other transport authorities, will he fairly acknowledge that on the test of passenger journeys made per mile, operated, on the latest figures available. London Transport is more efficient than any metropolitan county? Is this not a much more appropriate way of examining the efficiency of authorities than the sort of yardstick quoted by his hon. Friends?

Mr. Howell

One has to examine the passenger cost per mile, which is £1.97 in London compared with £1.42 in the other PTEs and £1.26 in the other municipal bus companies. One has to examine low bus miles per staff employed. A number of indicators need to be examined, but whichever way the right hon. Gentleman turns them—upside down or sideways—he will find that, basically, London Transport is relatively inefficient and that there is substantial room for improvement.