September 10, 2013 by combehavendefenders
On 6 September, Peter Jones – ex-leader of East Sussex County Council (ESCC) and one of the prime movers behind the Link Road – was confirmed as the new Chair of the South East Local Transport Board (SELTB). Having pushed car-based transport on the people of East Sussex at the expense of decent public transport, he’s now at the helm of an organisation which will be making decisions about funding for transport schemes over three counties – East Sussex, Kent and Essex.
What are Local Transport Boards?
Currently, transport funding is decided centrally by the Department for Transport (DfT); local authorities have been able to ‘bid’ for money, and the DfT has made the decisions about what to fund – this is how the Link Road came to be funded.
In the future (after the 2014/15 Spending Review), decisions on funding will be devolved to recently set up Local Transport Boards (LTBs), which according to the DfT are ‘voluntary partnerships of local transport authorities, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and possibly others.’ What those ‘others’ are is not specified.
Choose whoever you want….
Discussing the membership of LTBs, the DfT document about devolution of funding decisions states: ‘Several respondents, particularly NGOs, have pressed the case for a wider range of LTB membership, including community representatives and environmental groups. The Department would like to encourage transparency and engagement with stakeholders … but does not intend to centrally prescribe the involvement of these groups’ (italics added).
By choosing not to ‘prescribe’ the membership of LTBs, the DfT has thereby created a situation whereby anyone who might put forward a case for funding of decent public transport, rather than more and more roads, has effectively been cut out of the decision-making process – at least in our area, where there are no such representatives on the board.
Local Enterprise Partnerships: Making decisions on our behalf
The LTBs are broadly based on the geography of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – the SE LTB comprises Essex, Southend and Thurrock; Kent and Medway; and East Sussex. LEPs are ‘a voluntary partnership between local authorities and businesses formed in 2011 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to help determine local economic priorities and lead economic growth and job creation within its local area’. (link: italics added).
Why unelected and unaccountable representatives of local businesses should have a decision-making role in how public money is spent, is not addressed. The South East LEP (SELEP) includes a representative from an industrial fastening business, a building contractor and a company making ‘cable management products’. Of the forty three members, thirty nine are men. Peter Jones is also chair of SELEP.
Peter Jones: representing whom?
Members of SELEP are representatives of local authorities, or local business. Until recently, Peter Jones was listed as representing East Sussex County Council, although he resigned in May. When we put in a Freedom of Information request to ESCC, questioning on what basis Mr Jones could be said to be representing our county, we received the following reply:
‘The SELEP website has not been updated following the elections 1 May. The Council’s representative is Councillor Glazier. Officers at the SELEP are being contacted and will be asked to update their website’.
The updating of the website finally took place in late November 2013, six months after Mr Jones had resigned from ESCC. The question of whom he is supposedly representing has obviously been a tricky one: SELEP has solved it by simply removing him from its list of members.
We have now contacted SELEP to ask how Peter Jones can be chair of an organisation of which he is apparently not a member. No answer is yet forthcoming.
Not enough money for all those roads…
The initial allocation of funds from central government to the SELTB is £65.9m. However, the board has drawn up a shortlist of schemes which together come to £183m. Of the seven schemes prioritised, six are car-based (including a park and ride scheme) and the other is a new station near Chelmsford.
The Baldslow Link raises its ugly head
One of the prioritised schemes is the Baldslow Link – the proposed new stretch of road linking Queensway directly to the A21. Amber Rudd MP refers to it as ‘the final piece of the jigsaw’ and claims it’s needed to reduce congestion on the Ridge – congestion which will, of course, be caused by the Link Road.
In its 2010 submission to the Local Authority Major Schemes Development Pool for funding for the Bexhill Hastings Link Road, ESCC says that the Baldslow Link would cost ‘a minimum of £30m’ (emphasis added). However, happily that sum has now gone down and in its prioritisation document, SELTB now suggests the cost would only be £15m.
John Shaw: fingers in the pie again
Now that the SELTB has drawn up a shortlist of schemes, the process begins of assessing the case for each scheme. And who better to do that than our old friend John Shaw, CEO of SeaChange Sussex, and developer of the Gateway Road – in other words, another cheerleader for the car. John Shaw has been appointed to the position of assessor by none other than Peter Jones himself.
We were interested to know how this appointment came about, whether John Shaw was being paid, and whether the appointment was made openly and accountably. A Freedom of Information request – and months of phone calls and emails asking why it had not been answered – produced the following explanation:
So that’s OK then. The fact that Sea Change is involved in ‘developing’ the Queensway Gateway – aka the Baldslow Link, one of the roads the SELTB is considering funding – does not, apparently, constitute a conflict of interest.
Transport funding: unaccountable, unsustainable, unacceptable
In conclusion, we now have a system whereby funding for major transport schemes in the South East is decided by an unelected, unaccountable quango. Its chair has shown by his actions that all he’s interested in is the car, its members include a number of local business representatives who have been vocal in their support for the Link Road, and it has appointed an advisor who is currently developing a road of his own. This is the future of transport funding.