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Whose hand on the wheel?

27th August 1971
Page 9
Page 9, 27th August 1971 — Whose hand on the wheel?
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

The West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority is impatient to get its hands on the bus operating powers of its Executive, to judge from the policy report just made public. This frustrated ambition may be frustrated no longer if the forthcoming reorganization of local government gives much wider transport control to the new metropolitan counties, as has been suggested. And this prospect raises some issues vital to the future of the bus industry.

When the PTAs were conceived one of the most significant improvements on the traditional scheme of municipal transport was that the powers of the lay Authority were confined to policy and finance while the professionally staffed executive was given a free hand in organizing and running the services. Would bright and energetic men have come forward so readily to run the PTEs if they had faced the prospect of being overruled on any day-to-day matter by elected representatives? Would the PTEs have shown an enterprise and ability which has surprised even their opponents if committee rule had been the order of the day?

This, we hope, is a development which the Government will take special pains to avoid in its charter for the new counties. This may not be easy; if the new county authorities are to be given more power to run their own affairs it may prove difficult for the central Government to specify in advance the rules by which one section of the activities should be organized. But the alternative is a return to the impossible and we thought outmoded situation where managers are prevented from managing through constant interference from above. If that happens, the industry will not attract the professionals it needs to cope with the increasingly difficult and complex business of providing the public with a transport service.

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