§ Mr. Knowles
asked the Secretary of State for Transport what further responses he has received from the operators concerned to the recommendations on the provision of stage carriage bus services contained in the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission published on 28 July 1982; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I have arranged for copies of further responses from the National Bus Company, West 551W Midlands county council and passenger transport executive and Cardiff city council to be placed in the Library.
In his earlier statement about the report on 28 February — [Vol. 38, c. 427] — my right hon. Friend's predecessor indicated in respect of NBC that he hoped additional progress would be possible in certain key areas. I am pleased to see that this has indeed proved possible, and the Department will continue to take a close interest in NBC's work on "value for money" audit and investment appraisal procedures in particular. We are also continuing to discuss objectives with NBC in the light of our intention to introduce substantial private capital.
The response by Cardiff city council shows that it has considered all the recommendations directed towards it and has taken or is in the process of taking appropriate action. In particular, it has addressed the four special priority recommendations which the commission made in respect of the undertaking. I recognise that full implementation of some of the recommendations must be dependent upon the successful completion of the Department of Transport's current computerisation programme.
The earlier misgivings about the attitude of the West Midlands county council and PTE to the report are substantially allayed by their present response. I am pleased to see that the executive has renegotiated its engineering premium payment scheme to eliminate faults identified by the commission, and that there are encouraging signs of improved performance. The county council and executive still disagree with the commission's interpretation of statistics relating to non-manual staffing levels. Nevertheless, they acknowledge in their latest response the need to match staff numbers to work load, and I note that negotiations are in hand with a view to securing reductions in numbers.
Two recommendations fell for consideration by the Department. We intend to consult interested bodies shortly about the frequency of medical examinations for bus drivers, in the light of the working party report to which my right hon. Friend's predecessor referred. We will also be seeking industry views on the publication of unit cost information.
I should like to take this opportunity to convey my own thanks to the commission for the painstaking investigation which it undertook. Besides the value of its work to the four operators directly concerned, I believe its recommendations are of wider application and I hope that, if they have not already done so, other bus operators will consider the recommendations with a view to improving the efficiency of their own undertakings.