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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK

UK Politics

I'm superman, says embattled Prescott

John Prescott: "I feel like a fox in open season"

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has defended the record of his department following a highly critical report from a cross-party committee of MPs.

[ image:  ]
But he acknowledged the growing pressure on him over the perception Labour is failing to improve public transport, while penalising motorists.

Mr Prescott said: "I feel like a fox. It's open season on me at the moment."

But in a later interview on BBC Radio 2's Jimmy Young show, the deputy prime minister insisted he had the ability to continue at the helm of the vast Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Asked if it was too big for one person, he replied: "No, because I'm superman."

Millions of pounds 'wasted'

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott: "I feel like a fox"
His remarks followed a stinging attack by the Commons' Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, which has a Labour majority.

It said Mr Prescott's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has produced policy documents and set up task forces, but had produced few tangible improvements.

[ image:  ]
The MPs accused Mr Prescott of setting targets on a "whim" and then abandoning them when he could not meet them.

It says that millions of pounds have been wasted on management consultants and the department has failed to control spending on the Coastguard Agency and the extension of the London Underground Jubilee Line.

Too many targets were "aspirational", the MPs said: "Too often they are invented without sufficient thought and rejected if they appear too difficult to meet."

But Mr Prescott defended his department, saying: "I think we've done an awful lot more than what we are being credited for.

"This is an inheritance of problems that I have occurred after decade and decade of under investment in public transport.

[ image: The report is critical of spending on London Underground]
The report is critical of spending on London Underground
"I have to get the analysis right, everyone agrees that the white paper is a good analysis.

"I have to get the legislation - I only need it for a few things - I'm already implementing on the rail side, I'm doing it on the road side, I'm protecting the environment, quite apart from the biggest housing programme that we've got, quite apart from getting regional development agencies."

The deputy prime minister also promised he would respond fully to the criticisms.

The chair of the committee, Gwyneth Dunwoody, said the report, published annually by the committee, had focused on the running of the department and was not a personal attack on Mr Prescott.

[ image: Gwyneth Dunwoody: Not a personal attack]
Gwyneth Dunwoody: Not a personal attack
"It is important to realise that with a vital department like this it has to have both legislation to back up its plans or if its done a great deal of work it now needs to carry on, it needs to move beyond the ground work and get into the results.

"That will only happen if there is time for primary legislation and if there is money to back up the plan."

Mrs Dunwoody said it was "silly not to pretend" the department had problems.

"We're saying there are a lot of problems and it is silly to pretend there are not.

Gwyneth Dunwoody: "Silly to pretend there are no problems"
"The department knows where it wants to go but it will require support and it will certainly require some very energetic targeting to get results."

The report is the latest in series of attacks on Mr Prescott, and came in the wake of the departure of his press chief Simon Dugdale who "stepped down" on Tuesday.

Mr Prescott said that he felt like a fox in open season.

But Conservative leader William Hague said that not even the most cunning fox could snarl up the whole country.

Mr Hague said it was too late for Mr Prescott to use as the excuse that other governments did not do things.

He said: "He has talked an integrated transport policy, but all he has done is integrate transport and chaos.

"He has made good and bad systems worse."

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