Adept: Flexible funding key to devolved transport success

 

The Department for Transport must give councils ‘the freedom to fail’ when funding for major local transport schemes is devolved from 2015, the president of Adept has told Surveyor.

Speaking at the annual conference of the local authority chief officers’ body on 21 November, Miles Butler stressed councils should be given as much flexibility as possible on spending the devolved funding even if that meant some schemes could fail.

‘It would be very helpful to not have to spend the money on assessment consultations and very complicated value for money exams. In the past it would be fairly typical to spend £2m or £3m on consultants for some projects.

‘It translates as the freedom to fail. In an ideal world we would say to government just trust us to do it. Give us a few years then assess how we have done. Test us after the process and if we fail we have to take the consequences but if we are to create a really localist system then Whitehall has to loosen some of the controls. I think that is the message from the Local Enterprise Partnerships too.’

Under plans announced in September, the DfT will devolve funding for major schemes on a per-capita basis to local transport bodies made up of councillors and Local Enterprise Partnerships from 2015. Funding levels could be more than £1bn in total.

These bodies will then decide what major transport schemes they want to invest in, and also have the freedom to pool funds together.

Mr Butler pressed transport minister Norman Baker - the conference’s keynote speaker - for assurances that councils would not be tied up in ‘adversarial’ battles with Whitehall over how the money was spent.

Mr Baker said the DfT had to make sure the devolved cash was spent in a responsible use of the money, however he stressed ‘we are not looking to interfere unless in the most extreme circumstances’.

The official guidance for local transport bodies on drawing up assurance frameworks – methodology for managing the principal risks to meeting local objectives - would be published imminently, DfT officials said.

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