Byers under fire for railways cash pledge

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Indy Politics

Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, faced fresh accusations of excessive "spin" last night over the announcement of a £2.2bn injection for the railways.

Mr Byers told MPs on Tuesday that he had secured £2.2bn extra from the Treasury to fund railway improvements as part of the 10-year transport plan. Officials indicated the money had been released after negotiations over the weekend, .

But there was confusion yesterday when the Treasury said the extra money was not new and was announced last April.

The differing accounts drew sharp criticism from the Conservatives. Theresa May, the Conservative transport spokes-woman, said: "Stephen Byers is desperate to have some sort of victory. He is trying to spin that he has had some extra money, but as far as the Treasury is concerned it is not new."

The dispute broke as Labour MPs criticised Tony Blair for refusing to allow his transport adviser, Lord Birt, to face questions from an influential committee of MPs.

Gwynneth Dunwoody, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, attacked Number 10 for turning down a request for the former BBC director general to give evidence to MPs next week.

She criticised the decision as MPs started an inquiry into the Government's 10-year transport plan, insisting advisers involved in shaping Government policy should be subject to questioning from MPs.

Officials from the Highways Agency and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions have been seconded to assist the peer in his "blue sky" research, into transport up to the year 2020. Senior civil servants also meet Lord Birt every week as part of a steering group to guide his research.

Ms Dunwoody said: "The sub-committee invited Lord Birt to give evidence to this committee next Wednesday. We have been informed that ministers will not allow Lord Birt to give evidence to this committee, and they presume to tell us the department will be able to give us sufficient evidence."

She added: "If Lord Birt and the forward strategy unit are involved in policymaking, they must be accountable to Parliament and democratically elected members, through the select committee system."

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