Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
380. What sort of consultant was that?
(Mr Bennett) Catalyst, it is the name of the consultant
we had in to help us with it. We have addressed the whole of the
telephone area in broad terms. In fact, as I say, telephone performance
now is back on line. I think the problem you are referring to
was an availability one and in terms of dropped calls, we were
losing 6 per cent of dropped calls and that has now come right
down to 0.7 per cent, and we are in the high 90s of people who
can get through. There was a combination of issues. One was the
number of queries which accelerated on photocards on licences
and, secondly, we did have some problems with BT line availability
as well as our internal process problems.
381. You do not have any responsibility for
enforcement itself? There is a new number plate in Scotland which
salesmen can sell you with a Scottish flag on it, how active are
you in asking the police to prosecute people who have those, because
it is almost every new car that is coming out of the showroom
now has that flag instead of the Union Jack, which I think it
must be down here they put on it?
(Mr Bennett) That is partly what we were talking about
in terms of VCRAT and in particular that issue of number plate
standardisation which will come out through the VCRAT Bill. By
having registered suppliers of number plates, and by having a
laid down criteriafor example it is the country with the
382. You are not telling us we have to have
(Mr Bennett) That is the requirement, yes.
383. Do you also supply the mud with which we
can cover it up?
(Mr Bennett) Basically the laid down criteria we enact
Chairman: I know you have to do what you are
384. That is coming from Europe and you have
no control over it?
(Mr Bennett) It is also passed through legislation.
385. The policemen in Scotland are burning a
blind eye to that, are you saying after this Bill goes through
and becomes an Act it will become more of a problem and the police
will be almost duty-bound to stop people? They will stop almost
half the population of Scotland.
(Mr Bennett) Yes, you are quite right.
386. To be fair, they are already stopping half
the population of Scotland.
(Mr Bennett) People can put on number plates what
they like at the moment. The whole objective of the law is to
standardise the plates and ensure there is regulation, that we
do stop and outlaw those kind of plates, mainly because the plates
need to be a certain size which is able to be tracked, for example,
by automatic cameras and so on. If you start having too much on
plates, they cannot be read.
Chairman: Then take the flag off.
387. It is exactly the same size. It is a nonsense
that this is something which has crept into the system. I would
think it would be better if there was none of that nonsense on
a number plate at all. What representations, if any, would you
make to Government that that was part of the legislation?
(Mr Bennett) Our representation has been really to
make sure that we get the maximum size of plate. We work very
hard to make sure the number plate identity is clear. What goes
on the side, the stars, is something which has been imposed through
legislation in Europe but I think the stars are voluntary. What
is not voluntary is changing that for lots of other signs and
confusing the issue. So people, for example, can put dragons on
the car but not on the plate.
388. Dragons are probably better than stars.
When do you think this is going to come to be absolute and the
police are going to have to follow this through?
(Mr Bennett) Bear in mind the police are very much
involved with the whole VCRAT Bill. We have consulted on this
and worked with them because they want to regulate number plates
389. Are these policemen coming from north of
the border or is it representations from England?
(Mr Bennett) It is across the police forces. We work
with an advisory group of all policemen, the chief police, ACPO.
390. I wanted to move on to the Vehicle Certification
Agency. Mr Harvey, I want to talk about targets if I can. Accordingly
to our information you have a number of key targets, one of which
is to issue all invoices within one month of completion of all
certification assessment activities. Only 49 per cent of such
invoices were issued within a month, according to your information.
Why is that?
(Mr Harvey) This is one of our non-statutory activities,
the management system certification activity, and we realised
we were not doing very well on this but we did not have very good
information about the length of time of invoices, so we set this
as a target in order to lever-up the performance, if you like.
The 49 per cent we achieved in the first year of that target set
the benchmark. These are quite complex invoices in that sometimes
contractors are working for us and agents overseas, and since
that time we have had to work with them so that the information
that they supply to us can be speeded up.
391. As a lay person, if you do not mind me
saying, we are not living in the day of the Pony Express, we have
got faxes, e-mails, all sorts of electronic gadgets, allegedly
designed to improve our performance. In that context this 49 per
cent, even though it is a non-statutory activity, is not acceptable,
I would have thought.
(Mr Harvey) I agree it was not acceptable but we set
the target to find out where we were, to force us to put in a
good measurement system so we could generate the figure, and from
then on to improve it.
392. Do you intend to hang on to the one month
target or are you going to change that?
(Mr Harvey) We would like to change that. It is to
our advantage to get that money in as quickly as we can.
393. So if there is to be a change, that would
be reduced, would it?
(Mr Harvey) Yes.
394. What about your cash flow? This must have
an important effect on your cash flow situation.
(Mr Harvey) This does have an impact on our cash flow.
395. Can you give us some idea of what effect
(Mr Harvey) It is difficult to disaggregate this from
the rest of our cash flow. All of our charges are in arrears but
this would be costing us something like £10 to £20,000
a year. It has another detrimental effect on us which is that
because of the cyclical nature of this, the timing of this through
the year, it also gives us a risk on our net running costs limit
at the end of March, so it is an important thing for us to improve
396. Can I move on to the targets you have to
ensure that 95 per cent of assessment reports are error-free when
reviewed by the Head of Operations. Again, you have not met that
target. In terms of amount, you only met 90 per cent according
to the information.
(Mr Harvey) That is again true and it follows the
same pattern as the other one. We felt we wanted to do better
here, we did not have information which gave us this data, so
we set a target based on auditing some of the information from
previous years in order to lever-up our performance on this particular
397. When did you do that?
(Mr Harvey) 1998-99. We failed to meet this target
in 1999-2000, but I am pretty confident we will meet it this year.
398. You are confident. How many of these assessment
reports does your Agency do a year?
(Mr Harvey) About 300 a year.
399. They are quite important?
(Mr Harvey) They are important. I ought to say that
because there is an error in them does not mean to say it has
been a poor assessment or that there has been some fault necessarily
in the way the assessment was carried out, some misjudgments.