Transport advisors stripped of audit role

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has stripped the Commission for Integrated Transport of its responsibility for monitoring and reviewing delivery of the Government's ten-year plan for transport.

Environmental groups and the Conservatives immediately accused him of moving to silence a vocal critic of the drift in transport policy.

CfIT's most recent progress report on the ten-year plan was issued in mid-2003. It welcomed increased funding for transport and Mr Darling's relative willingness to consider road pricing - but also highlighted problems such as higher than expected traffic growth, a growing gap between the costs of public and private transport, slow progress on congestion charging, and the need to reduce CO2 emissions from lorries and buses.

At the time, the Committee's combative chairman David Begg commented that "the need to reduce car dependency and improve public transport is as relevant today as it ever was" - a sentiment out of step with the increasingly pro-motorist line taken by Ministers.

CfIT was set up after the Government launched its 1998 transport White Paper. However, a five-yearly Whitehall review concluded that its role in auditing progress under the ten-year plan "is already carried out by a number of Parliamentary committees and private bodies, which are better placed to express a clear critique" - while the Department for Transport already publishes its own progress reports.

The review also found an "essential conflict" between CfIT's advisory role and its monitoring and reviewing functions - which was "a prime cause of the strain in the CfIT's relationship with its sponsoring Department."

The Commission has now been told to focus on its "more valuable" advisory role, which includes "refreshing and informing the transport debate through its published reports and other work."

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