DfT criticised over budget underspend

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Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle criticises “shambolic book keeping” given the impact of cuts in the bus budget
Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle criticises “shambolic book keeping” given the impact of cuts in the bus budget

TSC report into funding shows £543m handed back to Treasury

The Transport Select Committee (TSC) has revealed the Department for Transport (DfT) handed back £543m to the Treasury at the end of the 2010/11 financial year – a move criticised by shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle.

The TSC published its report, ‘Counting the cost: financial scrutiny of the Department for Transport 2011–12’, examining transport spending pledges made by the government during this period, last week.

Then transport secretary Philip Hammond told the committee last autumn: “Overall the department spent £1,029m less than originally planned in 2010/11 of which £486m was recycled into transport initiatives and £543m surrendered to the Treasury.”

The TSC has warned the government it must do more to show transport expenditure plans involve a fair allocation of resources across the nation.

Louise Ellman MP, chairwoman of the TSC, said: “Although we welcome the additional investment in road and rail infrastructure projects announced in the Autumn Statement, there is still concern the regions are not as well provided for as London and the south east.

“We also have real concerns about how those projects were chosen. A project’s readiness to proceed does not necessarily demonstrate it is the best way of using public money to promote growth.

“Ministers also need to provide much more information about how the DfT’s funding of the Regional Growth and Growing Places Funds has been used.

“While the presentation of financial information is in a clearer, simpler format than previous years, the key performance indicators fail to show whether the DfT’s policies are effective and, overall, the DfT’s 2010–11 annual report gives a very thin account of the department’s performance during the year. The department must publish much more information about changes made to its budget within any given year.”

The committee repeated its call for the department to publish a national transport strategy to explain what the government aims to achieve by spending money on transport and how its policies support these aims.

“It is now a full year since we first made this recommendation in our report on Transport and Economy so we look forward to hearing more from ministers on this crucial matter when that report is debated on the floor of the House on February 28,” added Ellman.

Meanwhile, Maria Eagle criticised the “needless cut” from local bus services given the underspend of the “budget shambles”.

“The government’s decision to cut more than half a billion pounds from support for buses across England last year has seen the loss of one in five local bus services.

“Yet it now turns out that these cuts were completely unnecessary thanks to a budget shambles at the DfT which saw a £543m underspend being handed back to the Treasury. This sum could have protected local bus services from the impact of the spending review.

“It’s time for Ministers to stop washing their hands of the cuts to bus services, end the blame game with local authorities and accept that it was their own shambolic book keeping which has laid waste to our vital bus services up and down the country.”

To read the report, Counting the cost: financial scrutiny of the Department for Transport 2011–12, visit www. parliament.uk/transcom