This paper sets out the Government's response to
the Transport Committee's report on the Department for Transport
Agencies - The Driver, Vehicle and Operator Group and the Highways
Agency (HC 907, published on 27 July 2006).
The Government welcomes the Transport Committee's
report and acknowledges the recommendations made. The Department
and its Agencies are already addressing some of the points the
Committee identified, including the commissioning of an independent
review of the Highways Agency approach to cost estimating and
project management, which is due to report in the autumn. The
numbering used below relates to that used in the Conclusions and
Recommendations section of the Committee's report.
Recommendations and Responses
- Over the next four years
the Department estimates that the Shared Services project will
cost in excess of £44 million. The exact cost, however, remains
unclear. It is important that lessons are learned from this complex
project. We expect that any problems which may be encountered
by the first Agencies to join will be addressed for those joining
later. It is critical that Shared Services is implemented 'on
budget' and 'on time'. The financial and organisational ramifications
of failure are certain to be significant. We expect the Department
to keep us fully informed of progress against the project plan.
Any delays and the implications of these on additional costs should
be made clear. (Paragraph 14)
The shared services programme is a complex undertaking.
It is seeking to standardise and simplify many HR, payroll and
finance business processes across the central Department and the
agencies to improve efficiency and effectiveness. It will involve
most transaction processing being transferred to a newly established
shared services centre (SSC) in DVLA, Swansea.
DfT is in the vanguard of Whitehall departments in
developing shared services. Inevitably, it is encountering challenges
and risks which are taking time to manage. Lessons learned from
the take-on of the first agencies (DVLA and DSA) are being put
to good effect in the planning of subsequent implementations.
In addition, the Department is in regular contact and shares information
with other organisations through the Cabinet Office shared services
team and other forums in the public and private sectors.
The Department is committed to achieving an acceptable
balance of risk in terms of quality, cost and timescale. Consequently
it has been re-assessing the go-live readiness of the SSC and
the first two agencies, which has lead to re-planning those first
migrations. Given that the implementation timetable for the whole
programme extends through to 2008-09, detailed plans for the later
stages of the programme have yet to be worked up. These will be
developed and the business case updated over the coming months
as the programme team work with the remaining business units to
determine the specific requirements, costs and effort necessary
to take on their HR, payroll and finance functions.
The Department will keep the Committee informed of
Driver and Vehicle Operator (DVO) Group
Structure and governance
- The Committee is concerned
that Mr Hickey was unable to provide, when challenged, concrete
examples of how the Driver and Vehicle Operator Group structure
has improved the working of the Agencies or the service they deliver
to customers. The credibility of the new administration arrangements
will depend on producing such evidence quickly. (Paragraph 17)
- It is too early for the Government to consider
transferring the Group to direct Departmental control or for outright
outsourcing, as some have argued. But the time to take stock is
approaching rapidly. It is clear that the case made thus far for
the Group's existence is more one of hope than reality. In line
with the Department's commitment to evidence-based policy, we
expect there to be a thorough review of the Group structure before
its fifth birthday in 2008. There must be clear evidence then
that the new structure has delivered real, practical benefits
in terms of integrated working, value for money and service standards.
In the absence of such evidence, the Department will have failed
and it must then look seriously at creating a more effective structure
of accountability for the Group Agencies. Paragraph 19)
The Department keeps all its management structures
under review but is confident that the arrangements introduced
in 2002/3 for better management of the DVO Group have proved very
effective. The introduction of "One Stop" services for
customers (via the Motorists Franchise in Directgov for private
customers, and the Transportoffice portal, connected in turn to
Businesslink, for commercial customers) are visible examples of
a more joined-up approach to public service delivery, based primarily
on customers rather than the particular roles and boundaries of
individual delivery organisations. Such visible change is backed
up by more joined-up working in many areas, including customer
research, business process design (eg someone who passes a driving
test no longer has to contact DVLA themselves for their license
upgrade), business planning and policy development. We judge that
the current arrangements strike an effective balance between ensuring
Agencies enjoy the freedom and flexibility they need to deliver
their particular services with the need to ensure their work is
joined up where that makes sense; and in ensuring that the
Department's service delivery agenda is properly aligned with
its broader policy goals.
- The DVO Board must prove
its worth by enhancing the overall corporate and financial governance
of the Agencies. It must create identifiable benefits, and a strategic
approach to services, that the separate bodies cannot achieve
in isolation. We have seen no evidence yet that the Board has
added value in this way. It needs to begin to demonstrate this
now. (Paragraph 22)
There is clear evidence that the DVO Group in its
existing structure provides practical benefits to the customer
in a number of ways. In particular, during the last four years,
as part of its One-Stop-Shop strategy it has planned and delivered
a number of cross-agency projects that have introduced integrated
services through a dedicated customer website. These integrated
services make it easier for customers to transact with us and
speed up the time taken to do so. In this way customer experience
of DVO Agencies has been transformed. We now aim to provide a
service which has five key characteristics:
- we make it as simple as possible for customers when dealing
- when dealing with our customers we will be consistent in the
way we do business with them;
visit and done - we integrate our processes to provide a one-stop
service for customers;
service - we group together information services relevant to different
customers' needs to allow for customer self-service;
it easier to comply - we help the unintentionally non-compliant
by designing services around their needs, through education and
Specific examples of where the DVO Group has brought
together the development of new services across more than one
Agency that has improved customer experience include:
service approach to customer service including making service
channels transparent to customers (rather than on an Agency-by
of one single web-based private motorist portal (Motoring on Directgov)
and one portal for business /trade /operators access (Transport
Driver Licence Issue (ADLI) - The ADLI system passes driving test
pass results of candidates electronically from DSA to the DVLA
on a daily basis. DVLA is then able to automatically issue a driving
licence to qualified drivers. Customers now need make only one
payment to Government as opposed to the two payments that were
Computerisation - The introduction of the VOSA MOT computerisation
system has made it possible for DVLA customers to renew their
tax discs online or over the phone. The integration of these two
projects demanded significant cross agency co-operation that was
facilitated by being part of the DVO Group.
Value for money
- The Director General of
the Driver and Vehicle Operator Group does not know whether or
not the Group structure provides a 'direct financial benefit'.
He certainly should be in a position to know, and we are astonished
that he does not. It is critical that a value for money assessment
of the Driver and Vehicle Operator Group be conducted as soon
as is practicable to ensure that benefits are being realised in
the most efficient way. We want to see the results of this in
the Government's response to this report. Without such an assessment
it is difficult for the Department to justify the Group structure.
The DVO Group has achieved over £40m per annum
of efficiency and effectiveness savings during the last two years
through the development of initiatives and business process change
that Agencies have been tasked to deliver. Progress against the
Group's VfM delivery plan is scrutinised and managed by the DVO
Board on a regular basis. In addition, the DVO Group reviews agency
financial plans and strategic project business cases to ensure
that an optimum level of benefit from initiatives is being realised.
Again, the DVO Board is engaged in monitoring these plans and
advising the DG DVO Group on the proper financial management of
Agency budgets. The collaboration between DVO Agencies over finance
and HR service was the fore-runner of the wider DfT shared services
being delivered within the DVO Group.
The efficiency and effectiveness savings generated
are available to be re-invested in front-line services and in
this way have a positive impact on the level of fees and charges
passed on to the DVO customers and the level of Government grants
required by Agencies.
- Given the functions of the
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Driving Standards Agency
and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, Trading Fund Status
is appropriate. It is very important however that the financial
requirements of this status should not compromise service standards.
Such compromise undermines the rationale of these Agencies. It
is difficult to gauge if this is happening when targets are changed
frequently, are not co-ordinated across Agencies, and often do
not reflect service levels at the front-end. It is vital that
the impact on service levels of the shift to Trading Fund status
can be measured effectively over the long term. (Paragraph 25)
The underlying customer service standards are measured
on a consistent basis year on year to provide an appropriate comparison.
The Secretary of State targets which do change are stretch goals
to ensure that Agencies deliver change and these targets are co-ordinated
Position of the Vehicle Certification Agency
- It is not clear to us what
justification there is for the Vehicle Certification Agency's
inclusion in the Driver and Vehicle Operator Group. The justification
offered by the Chief Executive for its inclusion in the Group
was cursory. We would like the Group to offer a more detailed
rationale for its inclusion when the Government responds to this
report. (Paragraph 27)
All DVO Agencies are in the business of approving
and licensing the vehicles, drivers or operators permitted to
use our roads. VCA's core business contributes directly to this
by ensuring that the vehicles it approves meet the appropriate
European or UK standards laid down in the legislation, for safety
and environmental protection. The Agency thus sits naturally and
appropriately within the DVO framework and contributes directly
to its overall goals.
The VCA also works closely with the other DVO Agencies
where appropriate. For example, it supplies the CO2 data that
DVLA uses to set Vehicle Excise Duty levels, and that VOSA uses
for in-service compliance testing, furthermore; it supports all
the other DVO Agencies with other technical data on vehicles;
and VCA also chairs the DVO Vehicle Technology Forum, bringing
its contemporary knowledge of new vehicles and systems to the
- The Agency's plans for growth
in the short term are ambitious and depend on meeting vigorous
growth targets. The Committee will be questioning the Secretary
of State on the Agency's progress when we look at the 2006 Departmental
Annual Report. (Paragraph 28)
During 2004-05 VCA succeeded in winning new business
in Japan, Korea, Malaysia and the Middle East and during 2005-06
it expanded its global presence in the emerging markets of China
and South East Asia. This reflects the increasingly global nature
and needs of its customers.
VCA is continuing to expand its global presence during
2006-07 and is looking to open an office in India.
The VCA Annual Report for 2005-06 shows that the
VCA exceeded its income target of £8.0 million (as published
in its 2005-06 Business Plan) substantially to £8.82 million,
an increase of £1.5m (20%) over 2004-05. This has improved
the operating finances from a deficit of £362,000 in 2004-05
to a surplus of £80,000 in 2005-06. Further growth is forecast
- The Agency is a small organisation
and is currently in deficit due to a drop in demand from some
major customers. The decision not to move to Trading Fund status
therefore seems reasonable. Should the Agency expand its business
in the future however, its status should be reconsidered. (Paragraph
The potential of the Agency to become a Trading Fund
will be considered when it has demonstrated financial sustainability.
Administration and staffing
CHANGES IN WORKING PRACTICES AND STAFF MORALE
- It is vital that the Department
recognises the legitimate and enduring concerns of staff groups
about the continuing inconsistencies in working conditions and
challenges of new ways of working and has a programme in place
to ameliorate them. (Paragraph 30)
Government policy on pay in the Civil Service is
that effective reward and performance management systems are instrumental
to the delivery of better public services. The decision to delegate
responsibility for pay to departments and agencies that are also
accountable for the delivery of services aimed to ensure that
reward systems were better aligned to business needs. This flexibility
allows organisations to set pay and other conditions of service
at levels which enable them to recruit, retain and motivate staff,
as well as being responsive to labour markets.
- The Committee is pleased
that the Driver and Vehicle Operator Group has accepted that all
of its Agencies should be on a single 'information technology
platform', and that office systems should be common across the
whole Department and its Agencies. But it has taken far too long
to arrive at this common sense conclusion. This issue must not
be 'parked'. The replacement and integration of systems should
be completed without delay. The Department must tell us what its
timetable is for this work. (Paragraph 33)
Information technology platforms fall into 3 categories
and it may be helpful to the Committee to distinguish more clearly
between them: (1) operational systems (e.g. driving test bookings,
vehicle licensing), (2) support systems (e.g. finance & HR)
and (3) office systems (e.g. email). The current priority focus
is on the first and second categories as discussed below.
Operational systems provide
the IT support for services specific to an organisation e.g. only
DSA has a requirement to book a driving test, only DVLA has a
requirement to collect vehicle excise duty. To deliver the strategic
outcome of 'better services to customers' priority has been given
to joining up the operational systems and data of the DVO Group
through the Consumer Portal (which is in operation) and the Commercial
Portal (which is in development). E.g. DVLA's Electronic Vehicle
Licensing (EVL) service enables vehicle excise duty to be paid
on-line, checking vehicle details against the MoT database and
the motor insurance database. In addition, whilst customers transact
they are able to obtain information and access other services.
Underpinning the operational systems are the Information
and Communications Technology (ICT) and data infrastructures.
The DVO ICT and data strategies aim, over time, for convergence
of technical standards and common use of core data across the
Group. They also ensure that business services are delivered once.
For example, driving licence data is held by DVLA who provide
the services to enquire on and maintain that data. These services
are used by the rest of the DVO Group, as well as by external
organisations such as the Police or other Government Departments.
Since October 2003 all DVO ICT projects delivering operational
systems have been required to conform to the ICT Strategy.
The DVO ICT Strategy was agreed by the DVO Board
in 2003, and updated in January 2005. It defines the ICT Architecture
for the group, based on the industry standard service oriented
architecture (SOA) approach. Its key principles are:
use of applications
leading to value for money.
As regards Support Systems, this issue has
not been 'parked', either by the DVO Group or the Department.
A clear decision on the way forward has been made based on business
The Support System for DVO is being met by moving
to the Department for Transport shared services for Finance, HR
and payroll, including the sharing of the supporting IT systems.
The third category, office systems
vary across the DVO Group. We have considered further whether
full-scale alignment is necessary and affordable and concluded
that the business and financial case for wholesale change would
be weak. This is because the existing systems already allow
a considerable degree of cross-cutting communication, particularly
for the minority of staff - often at management levels - for whom
this is a day-to-day necessity, using the GSi Directory, the DfT
intranet, local address books etc. We therefore envisage a gradual,
rather than a wholesale, process of alignment as and when existing
systems fall due to be refreshed.
- The Committee has not seen
any clear evidence that either administration or enforcement divisions
are compromised by being operated by the same Agency. We would
advise Agencies to keep a sharp eye on this matter however. Customer
confidence must not be compromised by the Agencies' failure to
keep a proper check on their dual roles. (Paragraph 36)
In keeping with best/standard practice the Agencies
will keep this under review. Although, as the Committee itself
recognises, we would maintain that neither customer confidence
nor operational effectiveness are in any way compromised as a
result of the operation of this dual role of administration and
INJURIES TO DRIVING STANDARDS AGENCY STAFF
- In 2005 there were 858 accidents
during driving tests; 90 non-test accidents; 386 near-misses on
tests; 33 physical assaults; and 348 verbal assaults. This high
number of accidents and assaults suffered by driving examiners
is alarming. The Driving Standards Agency must address this as
a matter of urgency. We wish to be updated by the Agency on its
progress in one year's time. (Paragraph 39)
To reduce the possibility of accidents on test, and
to help learner drivers better prepare for the practical driving
test, DSA provides free copies of the Driver's Record.
This is a booklet in which the driving instructor or accompanying
driver can record the progress made by the individual and also
includes a Declaration of test readiness. Learner drivers
are advised not to apply for their test until they have reached
the required level of competence in each of the key areas identified
in the booklet.
The Agency also keeps under review the standard of
vehicles being used on driving tests. Where there are concerns
about the suitability of certain models (for instance where they
have limited all-round vision) the Agency will fully assess whether
they are fit for the purpose of conducting a driving test.
The figure quoted for verbal assaults on staff includes
a few (about 20) verbal assaults on call-centre staff. Where callers
become aggressive the call is terminated and automatically switches
to a recording which explains the standards of behaviour expected.
Posters are displayed in every driving test centre
advising candidates that aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated.
The Agency actively supports driving examiners who wish to report
assaults to the police.
In the event of a verbal assault the offender is
sent a letter telling them that their behaviour was unacceptable
and seeking an apology. When a physical assault has occurred a
different driving examiner conducts the re-test where possible
and they are accompanied by a colleague.
As part of their initial training course new entrant
driving examiners receive a presentation on how to handle aggressive
and violent members of the public. They are shown how to read
body language and to diffuse tension in order to prevent problems
getting out of hand.
The Agency is reviewing its handling of assault cases
and a revised policy is due to be published by the end of the
- There is some evidence of
attempts by the Driver and Vehicle Operator Group to make savings
where possible. Further scope for savings are sure to follow where
all bodies within the Group regularly benchmark costs against
each other. We seek the Department's reassurance that such benchmarking
is taking place as a matter of course. (Paragraph 41)
- The Committee is encouraged by the 20 per
cent efficiency savings made by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing
Agency in 2004/05 and further 20 per cent planned savings. We
expect to see the other Driver and Vehicle Operator Group Agencies
set similarly ambitious efficiency targets. (Paragraph 43)
- The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency appears
to be on the way to meeting its Gershon Review headcount reduction
target on time. The Agency is aware that this must not compromise
service standards. It remains to be seen whether this will be
the case. We shall keep a close eye on any evidence of slipping
standards. (Paragraph 44)
The DVLA has delivered 20 per cent efficiency savings
during the period from the start of 2000 to March 2005. A further
10 per cent is targeted as part of the Gershon Review in the period
to March 2008.
The Group make use of benchmarking, contestability
and Better Quality Services reviews as part of our continuous
programme to deliver value for money to customers and taxpayers.
DVLA will host and all DVO agencies will join DfT Shared Service.
An extensive range of services are bought-in from other suppliers
through competitive tendering.
All parts of the Group (not just DVLA) are contributing
to the value for money programme. Each Agency has targets set
out in their business plan. What is achieved against target is
reported in Annual Report & Accounts.
The Group is committed to maintaining customer service
standards. Where customers will benefit and it can do so cost
effectively, the DVO Group improves standards. (See answer
to recommendation 19 for further detail.)
- The Vehicle and Operator
Services Agency's costs for producing corporate documents are
too high. They must be reduced. (Paragraph 45)
In 2005/06 the total costs for VOSA corporate documents
(annual report and business plan) was £15,261, a 55% reduction
on the 04/05 costs. This information was provided to the Committee.
PREPAYMENT TO THE POST OFFICE
- It is generally accepted
best practice in Government that services should not be paid for
in advance unless there is a sound value for money argument in
favour of doing so. We were not given any such justification in
this case. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency should have
conducted a value for money assessment for the prepayments it
makes to the Post Office. If it has not done so, it must do so
now, and must also provide a copy of this assessment to the Committee.
If no such assessment has been made, the Department needs to explain
why in its response to this report. (Paragraph 46)
The position remains the same as that set out in
the response to the Committee's question in their minute dated
15 February 2006.
Under the terms of the contract we have with the
Post Office and in order to benefit from the favourable rates
negotiated, we pay them in advance twice a year. Thus the prepayment
of £23 million shown at 31st March 2005 will cover
the service delivered by the Post Office from 1st April
2005 to 30th September 2005.
The Post Office has provided "over the counter"
services on an outsourced basis to DVLA for a number of years
to supplement, for straightforward transactions, the DVLA capacity
of its local offices.
The current contract runs from 1 April 2002 until
31 March 2007, with an annual review and is volume based. At the
point of contract letting, DVLA discussed a number of payment
profiles with the Post Office and chose the current mechanism
of a six monthly prepayment scheme to cover the majority of costs
on the basis of value for money in comparison with the other payment
profiles. This was one factor included in many within a complex
contract worth over £50m each year in the past. The VfM aspect
is revisited by DVLA finance on an annual basis as part of each
review and the conclusion reached has been in each case the same,
although we continue to have the option to change. The payment
profiles are again part of the negotiations and decision making
process for the forthcoming PO contract renewal.
Targets and performance
CONSISTENCY AND TOUGHNESS OF TARGETS
- The overall picture of efficiency
in the Driver and Vehicle Operator Group is one of declining achievements.
Mr Hickey and his team need to get a grip on the problem and reverse
it. We expect to see a plan for achieving this set out in the
Government's response. (Paragraph 48)
The Department is puzzled by the assertion of 'declining
achievement' which we do not believe is justified. Each year clear
targets are set by the Secretary of State for the extensive range
of services provided by the DVO Group. These are grouped into
DVO Group's three strategy priorities:
- Better service to customers
- Better outcome for citizens
- Better value for money
These are published in each Agency's Annual Business
Plan and in a statement made to Parliament. Over the last few
years, the Group's targets have been focused on driving up performance
on service delivery along with completion of the Group's modernisation
agenda and delivery of efficiency targets. We have also begun
to link targets more explicitly with broader Government objectives
such as crime, congestion, and the environment.
At the present time, the DVO Group is considering
the way it captures information on the level of customer satisfaction
for its services in order to develop new customer satisfaction
models that would measure and report on:
relevant customer segments (including customers such as the Police
and intermediaries such as driving instructors); and
relevant services - including those that are out-sourced - for
which Agencies have a remit.
In this way, the Group is looking to get a more consistent
understanding of what represents success for our customers which
can tailor the development of our services in future.
Despite this challenging agenda, Agencies have continued
to improve or maintain the level and quality of services provided
to customers as can be demonstrated in the table below.
|Heavy Goods Vehicle & Public Service Vehicle test appointment offered within x days y% of the time.
||Target: within 18 days 95% of time
|Target: within 15 days 95% of time|
Actual: Achieved 99%
|Determine x% of unopposed Operator licence applications within y weeks.
||Target: 85% within 10 weeks|
|Target: 85% within 9 weeks|
Actual: Achieved 92%
|DSA national average waiting time for a car practical driving test.
||Target: 6 weeks from Jan 05|
|Target: 6 weeks|
Actual: Achieved 6 weeks
|Issue at least x% type approval certificates error free.
Actual: Achieved 99%
|Reduce the number of persistent evaders of Vehicle Excise Duty. Target - introduce Continuous Registration by Jan 2004.
||Target: reduce VED lost to evasion from 4.5 to 4% by March 2005.|
|Target: reduce VED lost to evasion to 3.4% by March 2006.|
Actual: Achieved 3.6%
Performance targets are kept under close scrutiny
each month by the DVO Executive Team and Board. Through this process
the Board exercises a challenge to Agency Chief Executive where
performance does slip against target. At the end of each year,
Agencies publish an Annual Report that sets out performance against
those targets that has also been the subject of external audit
comment. Since the evidence session on 8 February 2006 each Agency
has published its Annual Report for 2005/06, copies of which have
been placed in the House Libraries, which illustrate how they
have been achieving the vast majority of their targets.
- The Driver and Vehicle Licensing
Agency gave the Committee three sets of figures for its customer
service targets (two in writing, one in oral evidence). This is
unacceptable. The Agency must clarify its figures and publish
one full set in the public domain. The Committee does not expect
to see further examples of this problem. (Paragraph 49)
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency produces
one set of Secretary of State Targets at the beginning of each
year, these targets include customer service standards. These
targets are included in the Agency business plans at the beginning
of the year and reported against within the Agency's Report and
DVLA also publishes within their Report and Accounts
their performance against their Charter Mark standards which concentrate
on the timeliness of service delivery to customers. DVLA's written
evidence to the committee included details of their performance
against both these Secretary of State targets and Charter Standard
targets. The oral evidence given at the hearing was entirely consistent
with that written evidence.
The retreat from 'customer service'
- The Driver and Vehicle Operator
Group has moved away from tough, precise public service to woolly,
internal milestones. This is a retrograde step which makes measuring
the Group's success much more difficult and which will sap public
confidence. The Department needs to think again about this approach.
- It is also unacceptable that there are so
many different 'measures' of success for the Agencies. There must
be one, clear, consistent measure of customer service standards
and customer satisfaction, subscribed to by all Agencies and by
the Group as a whole. The target must be sufficiently challenging
and performance against it should be measured and published annually
by the Department. (Paragraph 54)
Each DVO agency runs an annual customer satisfaction
survey, these surveys produce measures of the level of service
they are delivering as perceived by their key customer groups.
Areas of service improvement are identified and plans put in place
to address any shortfalls. These plans are monitored at both agency
and DVO level.
For the future, the Group is developing a comprehensive
customer satisfaction model that will measure all services
provided to all the main customers and intermediaries (such
as driving instructors). When complete, this model will be used
to get detailed customer satisfaction data and identify opportunities
for service improvements.
- It is not clear to the Committee,
despite the evidence we have received, whether the process of
managing under-performance is actually effective, or just window
dressing. In particular, we have concerns that it is the Group
Director General and the relevant Agency Chief Executive themselves
who decide what constitutes a 'significant' matter for 'escalation'
to Ministers. This is very poor administrative practice. We expect
the Department to advance evidence of much more robust arrangements
for identifying under-performance and for tackling it. (Paragraph
One of the Group Director General's roles is to advise
Ministers on the Group's business, including performance, and
to ensure that any issues are identified and addressed. It is
clearly also open to the Minister, or others, to raise any issue
Performance is also considered by the DVO Board whose
membership includes four non-Executive Directors. The Board, which
is chaired by a Non Executive Director, provides external scrutiny
of the work and performance of the DVO Group Agencies. The Board
meets monthly, and produces a monthly report. The performance
of the Group, like that of all parts of the Department, is also
reported regularly to the Permanent Secretary and to the Departmental
The Department does not agree with the assertion
that these arrangements are 'very poor administrative practice'.
LEVEL OF TAKE-UP
- We are concerned that the
Driver and Vehicle Operator Group and its constituent Agencies
seem to be highly focused on the cost savings available through
the introduction of information technology-based solutions at
the expense of customer service. The Agencies gave us no evidence
that their Internet-based operations have the potential to grow
beyond current levels. They were not able to demonstrate that
there is any real demand for this costly expansion from customers.
- We do recognise that in the modern world the
Internet is a vital tool for speeding up and simplifying transactions.
We are not arguing for a return to a system of customer service
that avoids information technology solutions. We do however expect
the Agencies to make a solid demand case for future information
technology projects; and to recognise the vital importance of
driving up the effectiveness of human responses to customers.
These projects are uniformly costly and complex undertakings and
should not be begun without determining what will bring the most
benefit to the greatest number of people. (Paragraph 63)
Regular customer research investigates customer propensity
to use on-line services. High forecast demand dictates those services
that are then taken on to business cases to identify the cost
effectiveness of moving the services online. We recognise, however,
that e-services are not the totality of what we do and so we are
also look to maintain and improve other areas of customer services,
such as waiting times.
The decision to invest in an on-line service is taken
looking at both potential cost savings and customer service in
a balanced way. The 2005 Private Motorist Survey highlighted that
77% of motorists have access to the internet, and of those 81%
had, at some time, used the internet for online banking or to
pay for goods and services. This suggests a propensity of 62%
of motorists being open to the idea of using electronic services.
The attractiveness of electronic channels is showing
through in DVO figures; around 60% of Driving Theory tests, and
over 52% of Driving Practical tests were booked electronically
with DSA in August 2006. Of all customers who could use electronic
channels to renew their tax disc over 25% are choosing to do so.
VOSA's award winning Operator on-line self-service facility has
proved popular with existing operators - 58% of vehicle transactions
are now completed using this system. Similarly, the take-up of
VOSA's on-line ordering service to the 18,500 Garages in the newly
computerised MoT scheme has grown from 21% to 91.3% within 11
With environmental issues becoming increasingly important
to the consumer, the demand for information on which to base buying
decisions has increased. To meet this need, VCA developed a web
version of the fuel consumption booklet in 2000. To ensure that
the data is as accurate as possible, motor manufacturers have
the ability to amend their data online. This data is then validated
by the VCA before being released to the 'live' site, making it
one of the most up to date data information sources of its kind.
Now well established the site takes an average of 2 million hits
per month and has taken as many as 6 million hits in the days
following Budget announcements.
Electronic services are designed in response to customer
needs; they enable us to deliver better, quicker customer services.
These services do, and will, offer additional benefits such as
easier payment mechanisms, notifications and reminders to customers
and 24 hour access.
Electronic services are only one part of the customer
service portfolio. Other areas of service delivery, such as contact
centres and driving test timescales are managed closely to ensure
customer satisfaction measures are being achieved. For example
in the last 12 months this focus has seen average driving test
waiting times fall from 6.5 weeks to 5.8 weeks.
AUTOMATIC TEST BOOKING SYSTEM AND MOT COMPUTERISATION
- Both automatic test booking
and MOT computerisation were affected by delays and implementation
problems. It is unacceptable that initial confusion resulted in
uncertainties over billing which lasted three weeks. The Vehicle
and Operator Services Agency Chief Executive, Mr Tetlow, reassured
the Committee that these problems were dealt with and that restoring
a full customer service as soon as practicable was the priority.
Information technology projects are too often beset by difficulties
of this kind. It is critical that the lessons learned by the Agency
from the introduction of these projects are shared by the whole
Driver and Vehicle Operator Group so that there is no repetition
of this qualified failure. (Paragraph 69)
The Group has commissioned a full review, by an independent
third party, of lessons to be learned.
PROTECTION OF DATA ON THE DRIVER REGISTRATION
- We recognise the importance
of the data held on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's
driver and vehicle registers. It is therefore vital that it should
be safe from disclosure to unscrupulous third parties. (Paragraph
- The Committee welcomes the Department's review
of the data release policy for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing
Agency databases. It is vital that this data is not released to
companies or individuals who might misuse it. Public confidence
in the disclosure policy has been lost; it must be restored. We
recommend that 'reasonable cause', the presently undefined standard
for disclosing drivers' names and addresses to third parties,
be legally defined, and we invite the Government to set out a
preferred definition when it replies to this report. (Paragraph
On 24 July new measures were announced to govern
the release of vehicle keeper information from the UK vehicle
The new measures are designed to protect people from
misuse of their information, provide clear and robust complaint
and audit procedures where misuse is alleged, while allowing those
who do have reasonable cause to get the data they need.
Among the 14 new measures announced were:
guidance on what constitutes 'reasonable cause' to receive information.
for organisations to be members of an accredited trade association
in order to be able to make requests electronically - with tough
that fail to meet these standards to have to make requests in
detail on a case by case basis
an organisation uses information improperly, further requests
may be refused on the basis that the abuse indicates that the
organisation does not have reasonable cause for seeking the information
checks on recipients of the information and targeting those who
are the subject of complaints
evidence requirements where data is sought to enforce parking
complaints procedures for people who believe their data has been
The new measures will be monitored closely to ensure
that the new system is working effectively.
Vehicle and Operator Services Agency
TEST CENTRE LOCATIONS
- The test centres of the
Vehicle and Operator Services Agency are not ideally located.
This is acknowledged by the Agency. It is critical that the Agency's
review of test centre locations goes ahead promptly and that the
locations chosen for new sites have a good fit with twenty-first
century road patterns. We are alarmed by the lack of precise information
about the timing and scope of the review. Nor was it clear that
there will be an open consultation so that those affected have
a chance to make their views known. The Vehicle and Operator Services
Agency must rectify this immediately by setting out a clear timetable,
the parameters of the review, and by making a commitment to consult
the industry. (Paragraph 77)
In April 2006, following an outline report on the
effectiveness and accessibility of its testing services to customers,
the Agency started a comprehensive review of all of its sites
taking into account the proximity of Designated Testing Premises
and the future needs of the industry. This is due for completion
in October 2006. Options and recommendations will then be subsumed
into VOSA's wider Strategic Review and will form part of a wider
consultation process with VOSA staff, its Trades Unions and Industry.
This is programmed to take place between September and the end
of December 2006. The overriding aim is to provide improved value
for money services. The timescale for any implementation will
be subject to Ministerial approval.
- The Agency is right to target
roadside checks at areas where there are suspected high levels
of offenders. We had evidence however that an individual port
may have been singled out for a greater number of checks than
other ports of equal or greater size. This seems inequitable.
We want the Agency to explain in detail its rationale for checks,
and to be assured that operations are targeted proportionately
with the number of vehicles transiting them. (Paragraph 80)
VOSA targets enforcement activity where there is
evidence of high levels of non-compliance with road traffic legislation.
The level of activity near to the individual port
referred to in the Committees report is commensurate with the
high level of non-compliance of vehicles operating on that route,
and with other routes handling port traffic. For example, of the
number of vehicles stopped on route to that port during April
to September 2005, 31% were prohibited for overloading compared
with the 2005/06 national prohibition rate of 14%. Regular checks
will continue while concerns about the condition of vehicles proceeding
to and away from this port, or indeed any other site, remain.
VOSA is collaborating with the Highways Agency in
response to concern about high offending rates among vehicles
on international journeys entering or leaving the UK via the South
East ports. Additional staff have been provided to increase the
number of vehicles checked by a factor of five. Results from the
first four months of the pilot continue to show high levels of
offending by the target operators and drivers on these routes.
Following the Ministerial launch of this pilot in
July, articles in the trade press were highly supportive, endorsing
the increase of enforcement activity targeted against vehicles
on international journeys and UK operators who continue to flout
POINTS SYSTEM FOR VEHICLE EXAMINERS
- Mr Tetlow made little effort
to defend the points system for vehicle examiners. He also failed
to convince the Committee that the complaints procedure for operators
against vehicle examiners is sufficiently independent or free
from implicit intimidation by examiners. One of the Agency's most
important functions is ensuring that vehicles are safe when on
the road. The way in which vehicle examiners are rewarded for
how they perform should be open and transparent. The Agency should
look again at how the vital function of vehicle inspection is
linked to the system of reward for vehicle examiners. We expect
the Agency to explain how it will do this when the Government
replies to this report. (Paragraph 83)
The points system for vehicle examiners has been
independently audited and approved by the NAO.
It is an internal measurement adopted by VOSA. VOSA
undertakes an array of educational, enforcement, and deterrent
activities all of which contribute to the improvement of road
safety and environmental protection. Its performance gain system
ascribes a points value to each activity based on its perceived
contribution to these goals. VOSA is set a target each year to
increase the aggregate points total with the same resources, thus
providing a continually increasing contribution to road safety.
Tariffs encourage examiners to concentrate on the
non-compliant. This is entirely in accordance with improving road
safety and reducing the burden on the law abiding operators and
drivers. Examiners receive no bonus or other financial incentive
for sanctions taken against operators or drivers. It would be
wholly inappropriate to link the two.
All staff in VOSA are subject to Annual Appraisal
as is the case in other Government Agencies and Departments. Examiner
performance is evaluated against a competency framework for that
discipline. Performance bonuses are paid to those staff who have
continually and significantly exceeded the standard requirements
of the post - based on quality and not quantity of work.
VOSA's complaints system is described in two booklets,
"The Service We Give You" and "Improving Our Service".
The former outlines the standard of service that drivers and operators
can expect, and tells them how they can complain should they disagree
with an action taken by a VOSA member of staff. The latter describes
VOSA's three tier complaints system (local - HQ customer complaints
co-ordinator - chief executive) and reminds complainants that
they have the right to ask an MP to refer a complaint to the parliamentary
ombudsman. The DVO's Independent Complaints Assessor (Dame Elizabeth
Neville) visited VOSA last July. She agreed that VOSA's approach
to dealing with complaints was robust, was pleased to see that
two stages of the review were both outside the management chain
and commended the Agency (and those of the Group) for handling
complaints efficiently and courteously.
- Despite the recommendation
of our predecessor Committee seven years ago, the Government has
not since taken the opportunity to improve after-test monitoring
for younger drivers. This is unacceptable. (Paragraph 84)
The Committee recalls the 19th report
of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee (ETRAC),
on Young and Newly-Qualified Drivers: Standards and Training
published in October 1999 (HC 515). The Government's response
to that report was published in March 2000 (Cm 4631). ETRAC made
a number of specific recommendations, including the introduction
of a Hazard Perception Test as part of the computerised theory,
which have been implemented. In relation to after-test monitoring
of younger drivers, ETRAC rejected suggestions for a probationary
driver scheme, and a proposal that Pass Plus scheme be made mandatory.
The Government has pursued other recommendations by ETRAC, notably
in relation to the hazard perception test. The New Drivers Act
1995 also continues to make a significant contribution, through
revocation of some 16,000 recently awarded licences every year
where six penalty points have been incurred.
Following the ETRAC report, the Government published
a wide-ranging consultation document, A Structured Approach
to Learning to Drive in March 2002, which canvassed a wide
range of proposals for restricting newly-qualified drivers. The
Government's conclusions following this consultation were published
in August 2004. The Government decided against further statutory
regulation of learners and newly-qualified drivers. This conclusion
is broadly in line with ETRAC's findings and conclusions (paras
51 to 56 of the report).
The Government remains concerned, however, to make
the driver training and testing process more effective. DSA have
a range of products for this purpose, including -
Arrive Alive scheme, which since 1997 been delivered to over 870,000
young people below the minimum age for learning to drive;
Driver's Record, which guides learners, instructors and accompanying
drivers on developing the full range of competences required for
the practical test and subsequent unaccompanied driving;
Pass Plus scheme, which now attracts 16 % of those passing the
The Department has research programmes in progress
aimed at identifying best practice on pre-driver education, and
at the potential for improving the Driver Record and Pass Plus
scheme. DSA is considering a new module to the Arrive Alive programme
for those who have passed the driving test within the past two
years. The new module would address, in greater detail, and amongst
other things, driver attitude and use of speed. DSA is looking
at better ways to promote Pass Plus among novice drivers. As part
of that work DSA has begun a 6 month project to write to all successful
car test candidates inviting them to participate in Pass Plus.
The Agency is working with local authorities who subsidise Pass
Plus as part of their road safety agenda to promote best practise.
- The accident rates for younger
drivers are appallingly high, and rose by 12 per cent in 2004.
It is important that the studies that the Driving Standards Agency
is undertaking to look at the efficacy of programmes such as Arrive
Alive and Pass Plus that help educate younger, newly qualified
drivers are properly considered by the Department. If these studies
demonstrate material benefit from such programmes, the Department
must act quickly to make them mandatory for all young people preparing
to learn how to drive. (Paragraph 87)
The Department is currently running several research
projects which include young and newly qualified driver behaviour
within their scope.
of Pass Plus scheme for newly qualified drivers - report due November
of the Driving Standards Agency Drivers Record - report due summer
Study of Learner and Novice Drivers II - report due summer 2007.
The Cohort Study will look at the impact of the different
DSA initiatives. Results of the study and consultation with the
driver instruction industry will inform our forthcoming agenda
of driver education.
DSA is seeking an increase of the number of presentations
and audience of the Arrive Alive programme, and will continue
to publicise this programme through writing to the relevant institutions
and using its call centre to promote the presentations. DSA anticipate
that this will lead to a much higher take up after schools return
from the summer holiday.
The new programmes - Arrive Alive Motorbike and You
Can Drive Too (Arrive Alive for young disabled people) focus on
motorbike safety and mobility respectively, and have performed
well. DSA expects the take-up rate of these increases as a result
of the above promotion techniques.
As already noted (at recommendation 32), the Government
decided in 2004 against further statutory regulation of learners
and newly-qualified drivers, a conclusion broadly in line with
ETRAC's findings and conclusions. ETRAC specifically concluded
against making Pass Plus mandatory. The Government will consider
what further steps may be needed to increase take-up of the Arrive
Alive and Pass Plus schemes when the current research projects
have been completed.
- In the meantime, the Committee
does not see why a strengthening of the existing probationary
period for young, newly qualified drivers should not be implemented.
We do not agree that such a strengthening would be 'draconian',
as described by Dr Stephen Ladyman MP, Minister of State for Transport,
during the Committee stage of the Road Safety Bill. We recommend
that the Government seek powers in the Bill to vary the measures
for the probationary period. It should then consult fully on changes
to those measures and introduce them by Statutory Instrument later
this year. (Paragraph 88)
As already noted (at recommendation 32), the Government
decided in 2004 against further statutory regulation of learners
and newly-qualified drivers, a conclusion broadly in line with
ETRAC's findings and conclusions. The available evidence does
not show clearly that any of the measures commonly canvassed would
have a significant impact on UK road casualties. They would restrict
many newly qualified drivers who drive in a safe and responsible
manner, for example by preventing them from taking passengers
or driving at night or on motorways. They would all be difficult
to enforce, especially against those most likely to offend existing
DSA seek to encourage graduated learning before a
full licence is issued. We remain of the view that the skills
needed to drive unaccompanied should be demonstrated at the time
of the practical test and that further compulsory training or
testing should not be necessary.
We are also concerned that such a scheme could increase
unlicensed driving, with negative road safety consequences, and
there is no conclusive evidence that such a probationary period
would offset that risk. We believe a comprehensive and robust
driving test makes graduated licensing unnecessary. The Driver's
Record, which is currently the focus of a DfT research report,
has been introduced on a voluntary basis and early indications
are that it is proving to be very effective.
- Since our predecessor Committee
last looked at the Highways Agency in October 2003, it continues
to experience problems. One organisation told us in evidence that
the Agency is 'an elitist organisation which is
and risk averse'. To that, the Committee would add its concerns
that the Agency has no grip on the costs of its major road projects;
is managing a property portfolio it should not possess from expensive
offices it should not be using; has only a limited idea what some
of its staff are actually doing; and has failed to build a constructive
dialogue with local communities over road planning. These problems
are set out below. (Paragraph 89)
The Agency takes this report and the criticisms of
the Committee seriously and already has work in place to address
the most serious aspects. However it is disappointing that the
Committee gave little recognition to the significant achievements
since 2003 in transforming the Agency from a road builder to a
customer-focused network operator for England's busiest roads
operation of the Traffic Officer Service (TOS) across all of England's
motorways providing a visible presence to support road users and
freeing up police time to deal with crime and respond to serious
Delivery of Active Traffic Management (ATM) on the M42 from a
concept to a reality ahead of schedule to make better use of existing
capacity on the motorway and trunk road network,
delivery of the benefits of major road schemes ahead of schedule,
such as the A47 Thorney Bypass and the A421 Great Barford Bypass,
levels of satisfaction in our road user satisfaction survey,
efficiency improvements of £71 million in roads procurement
by adding value to service delivery, and
achievement of all of our business plan targets agreed with ministers
for the second year running.
- We welcome the first steps
being made to improve the Highways Agency's financial management
by the appointment of the Director of Finance and a general overhaul
of the finance function. Now we expect to see real results. The
Chief Executive places confidence in the Finance Director's ability
to keep a firm hand on the Agency's historically wayward finances.
We hope this confidence is not misplaced. The Committee expects
to see improvements over the coming year. We shall be examining
the Agency on a regular basis to keep ourselves fully informed
of developments. (Paragraph 93)
We are pleased that the Committee recognises and
approves of the steps taken to improve the Agency's financial
management. The Committee also recognised that annual budgets
have been fully utilised and our accounts published on time in
accordance with Government Accounting rules.
Internal financial processes are subject to
continuous improvement and review
- In its response to this
report the Government must set out definitively the estimated
implementation costs of migrating the Highways Agency's Oracle
finance system to SAP. (Paragraph 95)
In his response to a parliamentary question from
the Chairman of the Committee on 10th March 2006, the
Secretary of State stated that the Highways Agency would not be
migrating to SAP for a further three years and that until detailed
technical design work had been completed the full costs of the
migration could not be accurately estimated.
- We strongly support the
Agency moving to a common 'platform' for its financial management
system with the rest of the Departmental Group as part of the
'Shared Services' programme. The costs of this process are in
doubt however. The Agency told us £10 to £15 million.
We note a Freedom of Information request which states £1.27
million. We are concerned therefore that the potential costs of
this transfer might not be under full control. The Department
must keep the Committee informed of detailed costing information
for the new Shared Services system as it becomes available. (Paragraph
The costs of the shared service programme are closely
monitored by the Department, through a programme board chaired
at Director General level. Programme progress and costs are also
regularly reported to and considered by the Departmental Board.
The Department will keep the Committee informed of progress.
- We understand that the rapid
changes in technology will necessitate some ongoing use of external
consultants. It is important that the Agency does not rely so
heavily on external consultants that it loses control over its
own systems, or becomes tied into overly costly contracts from
which it cannot extricate itself. The Agency itself needs to assure
us that this is in fact the case. (Paragraph 98)
The Agency is in control of its own systems and is
committed to reducing its reliance on and cost of using external
consultants/contractors to maintain and manage its systems. The
Agency will make highly specialist skills available through external
consultants only where there is no alternative.
Cost overruns on major road projects
PRE-APRIL 2003 SCHEMES
- The Highways Agency has
lost budgetary control of the Targeted Programme of Improvements
(TPI). If overruns continue at the current rate, the cost of yet-to-be-completed
TPI road projects would be 50 per cent higher than originally
estimated. Such an increase would be an irresponsible and unacceptable
waste of public money. This is a very serious matter, and Mr Robertson,
as Agency Chief Executive, must take personal responsibility for
ensuring that an increase of this magnitude does not occur. We
wish to know how that will be achieved. (Paragraph 104)
- The Department must keep a keen eye on the
costs of TPI projects. Although the Highways Agency operates at
arms length from the Department, it is clear that on this issue
it needs close supervision and support to ensure that costs do
not continue to spiral. The Department must make it clear to the
Agency that it must cover the costs of its own project increases
by imposing price caps where necessary. (Paragraph 105)
POST-APRIL 2003 SCHEMES
- It is too early to draw
final conclusions from those schemes which entered the TPI programme
after April 2003. We hope that the Agency has made more accurate
estimates of these costs than it did for the older schemes. If
it did not, then cost overruns would be about £1 billion.
This would be utterly intolerable. We expect the Agency to manage
the costs for the post-April 2003 schemes tightly, and to show
very significant improvement in management over the pre-April
2003 schemes. (Paragraph 108)
The Department welcomes the Committee's interest
in this area, but cannot accept that the Agency has lost budgetary
control of the Targeted Programme of Improvements. The Agency
has consistently met its delivery targets within the approved
budgets set down in its Business Plans.
However, we agree that there are considerable challenges
for the Agency in forecasting the costs of a programme of
schemes that are being prepared for delivery over the next ten
years and beyond. For that reason, the Secretary of State has
asked the Nichols Group to review the Highways Agency's approach
to cost estimating and project management. Nichols will make recommendations,
including on how the Agency should best assess, monitor and report
on risks to its cost estimates. That review will also consider
the central Department's role. We will write further to the
Committee once Nichols has reported.
Ways of Managing Costs
- The Committee welcomes
the Agency's attempt to reduce overall costs through early contractor
involvement. We wish to see an estimate of the level of savings
this will deliver. The Agency must continue to develop new ways
of working aimed at reducing the costs of road schemes. (Paragraph
The Agency welcomes the committee's recognition of
its use of early contractor involvement (ECI). The ECI initiative
is still relatively new and few schemes that use them have completed
but we will continue developing the best way to make use of this
innovative form of procurement.
- The Agency does not appear
to have a clear picture of the administrative work it carries
out at the moment. This is absurd. It must develop a system to
allow it to do so. In the absence of this, it cannot ensure its
administration is fully cost-effective. The Committee wants a
clear picture of how many of the Agency's staff perform purely
administrative duties and what percentage of other staff time
is spent on administrative work. (Paragraph 114)
The Agency does have a clear picture of the administrative
work that it carries out; at 31 March 2006, the Agency employed
3314 full time equivalent staff (FTEs). Of this, 1327 were employed
directly on the delivery of front-line services (mainly traffic
officers) and funded from our programme resource budget. A further
328 staff worked directly on the Agency's capital programme and
were funded from that source. The scoring of these staff and budgets
is in accordance with Treasury guidelines. Only staff costs associated
with or providing support in the provision of direct frontline
services can be funded from Programme Resource budgets. All other
staff costs must be funded from Administration budgets. The remaining
1659 FTEs were funded from the Agency's administration resource
budget. Of these 130 are performing purely administrative duties
while 31% of the average of the remainder is spent performing
The Agency maintains and uses a time recording system,
Highways Agency Timesheet System (HATS), to provide information
for management reporting and resource accounting purposes by collecting
data from all staff (excluding traffic officers) about the time
spent on different activities and projects on a daily basis.
- In 2003 great claims were
made for the financial benefits - £98 million a year - of
introducing Traffic Officers onto the highway network. We wish
to know the Agency's latest estimate. (Paragraph 116)
The business case for introduction of the Traffic
Officer Service identified three main quantitative benefits arising
in incident related congestion.
in injury incidents caused by debris related incidents and a reduction
in secondary incidents.
up police time to concentrate on enforcement and denying criminals
the use of the network.
The Highways Agency has set seven key indicators
to measure how the Traffic Officer Service can contribute to the
PSA reliability target and also meet the financial benefits of
the service. All regions will start to shadow the indicators from
October 2007. These indicators will be used to set targets for
the service in 2007/08.
The Agency has reviewed the early assumptions in
the business case to reflect operational experience in the West
Midlands Pilot. The review indicated a revised estimate of total
financial benefits of £87m (at 03/04 prices). Set against
annual running costs of £71m, this represents a positive
business case delivering a net annual benefit of £16m.
The Agency does not expect the full benefits to be
realised until the Traffic Officer Service has operated at Full
Service in all regions for at least six months. Full Service should
be achieved during the 07/08 financial year. It is therefore too
early to report on delivery of the benefits of the Service. The
Agency is scheduled to report formally in 2008 on achievement
of the benefits set out in the business case. Meanwhile a benefits
realisation strategy is in place aimed at capturing and analysing
relevant data to measure outcomes against the revised benefits
- The Committee takes this
opportunity to reiterate the concerns of its predecessor Committees
that the introduction of Traffic Officers onto the highway network
could compromise the effective investigation and prosecution of
road accidents and offences. We wish to see the relevant Agency
data and to be assured that investigations by the police are taking
place when required. (Paragraph 118)
The Agency does not have data on police investigations
and has no responsibility to collect such information. Traffic
Officers are trained to manage congestion and incidents including
preserving the scene at police led incidents until the police
arrive. Police led incidents are defined as any "incident
involving death or injury (including securing evidence and investigation),
suspected, alleged or anticipated criminality (including traffic
offences), or threats to public order and public safety."
Police retain primacy at these incidents until they formally hand
over the scene to Traffic Officers. This will only occur when
evidence is preserved and the police are satisfied that they can
complete their investigation unhampered.
The Agency has regular regional operational meetings
with its police partners where the police can raise any issues
of concern about Traffic Officers' activities. There are no reports
of any concerns being raised that Traffic Officers have compromised
police led incidents.
In fact the following quote, from Stephen Green,
Operational lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers'
(ACPO) Roads Policing Business Area and Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire,
indicates that the Traffic Officer Service is allowing police
to undertake effective and efficient investigations:
"I have had no examples drawn to my attention
where the presence of Traffic Officers has compromised the effective
investigation of road collisions. Indeed, the opposite is the
case in that there is evidence that police staff have been released
from network management tasks, which previously would have engaged
police for many hours, to enable a thorough and expeditious investigation
of the scene."
- We were shocked at the reports
we received that Traffic Officers have access to few information
technology resources, and that they are being asked to work in
generally poor conditions. If true, this represents a bad deal
for Traffic Officers, the Agency and the public. Sound morale
is based on good staff management. Where this is evident instances
of staff 'churn' will be low. Mr Robertson's statement that he
does 'not recognise' the Union's concerns was particularly alarming.
If these problems are real, and the Chief Executive was not aware
of them then he is badly at fault; if he refutes them then he
should have done so clearly, and with evidence, when he came before
us. He did not. The Committee expects Mr Robertson to meet Union
representatives to discuss these concerns. We expect to be updated
on the outcome of these discussions. (Paragraph 120)
The Agency refutes the suggestion about the conditions
and morale in the Traffic Officer Service. The Traffic Officer
Service enjoys a good relationship with road users and morale
is good. Staff turnover in the Traffic Officer Service is 4% which
compares well with the Civil Service wide turnover of 8%.
The Trade Union Side have been fully involved in
the Traffic Officer Service from the outset at both a national
and local level through:
National Whitley framework chaired by the Chief Executive that
sub group of the National Whitley established to focus solely
on the Traffic Officer Service,
local agreement of shift patterns which operate within a national
framework that ensures compliance with EC Working Time Directives
and best practice,
meetings held twice a month on basic pay and allowances leading
up to the launch of the service in April 2004, and
at a local level to resolve individual concerns.
This framework offers the opportunity to comprehensively
discuss the terms and conditions of staff working in the Traffic
Officer Service and poor morale has not been raised.
The Chief Executive regularly visits the Traffic
Officer Service at its regional locations and has experienced
the role first hand through working on a shift involving attendance
at incidents with crews.
The Agency recognises the importance of having a
well motivated workforce and will continue to ensure that individual
matters of concern are addressed at the local, and where appropriate,
national level through regular formal and informal discussions
with the Trade Unions.
- Of further concern are the
diversity statistics for the Traffic Officer scheme. The Agency
must work very hard to improve the position. These reveal that
only 15 per cent of officers are female and 4 per cent are from
ethnic minority groups. Ethnic minorities represent eight per
cent of the UK population and the Agency needs a recruitment target
which reflects that. A big effort needs to be made to recruit
more women and minorities as Traffic Officers. (Paragraph 121)
The Agency accepts that, in common with other parts
of the civil service, it needs to improve the diversity of its
Traffic Officer Service, and is already working hard to improve
the position. All recruitment processes have been reviewed and
equality proofed to support the search for greater diversity.
All staff involved in recruitment have received training in diversity,
and funds allocated for advertising for future vacancies will
be heavily focused on attracting a better ethnic mix. The Agency
has a target of recruiting 8% from ethnic minority groups.
The Agency also remains committed to increasing the
number of female staff it employs in the Traffic Officer Service
through greater use of part-time opportunities and other initiatives.
- When the Committee took
evidence from Mr Robertson, work-to-rule industrial action was
still taking place. It was not then possible to gauge whether
it would have a material impact on the Agency's ability to meet
its performance indicators. Nevertheless, Mr Robertson appeared
confident that the action would not have an impact on the Agency's
ability to meet key targets. The Committee would like to know
whether that has been the case. In its response to this report,
the Government must tell us whether the Agency is still on target
to meet its Key Performance Indicators. If it is not, the Government
must tell us if this was an effect of the industrial action early
in 2006. Mr Robertson should tell us what action he has taken
to prevent a repeat of this problem for the 2006 pay round. (Paragraph
The action had no impact on delivery of the Agency's
service to road users or achievement of its business plan targets,
all of which were achieved for 2005/06. The Agency is not complacent
and recognises the importance of engagement with its staff and
its trade unions.
2006 pay negotiations have recently commenced within
the constraints of government pay policy. The Agency has asked
the Trade Union Side to identify their priorities, recognising
that this can provide a constructive way forward.
Management of the property portfolio
- The Highways Agency has
29 fulltime staff managing property contracts. This is 29 too
many. The Committee has not seen any justification however why
the Highways Agency, which is in the roads business, should have
a property portfolio at all. (Paragraph 125)
- The Agency has failed to develop an effective
approach to managing its property portfolio. It employs managing
agents; but retains a significant number of in-house staff. The
current situation appears to be a 'half-way house' where property
management is neither fully outsourced, nor conducted in-house.
The Agency should tell us why it has full service property agents
when it insists on keeping a hand in managing the property portfolio.
The Agency needs to demonstrate a commitment to reduce the size
of its property portfolio. It must tell us how it will do that,
what milestones it has, and when it will relinquish its properties.
The Agency needs to acquire land to construct and
operate the strategic road network. Our property portfolio is
a direct consequence of that requirement, together with our statutory
obligation to purchase properties that are "blighted"
by road proposals. We also have discretionary power to purchase
properties where our proposals cause serious hardship.
The portfolio includes only those properties which
in the near future for a road scheme
at a reasonable price due to the potential impact of a scheme
The Agency makes good use of its asset through rental
income until required for road construction. The Agency regularly
reviews its portfolio to ensure that land is not retained "just
in case" it may be required for a road scheme maintaining
its role as client to ensure propriety and management of public
The value of the Highways Agency's property and land
portfolio is currently approximately £130m.
The Agency has two national property managing agent
contracts. One contractor manages approximately 460 residential
properties; the second manages approximately 780 Agricultural/Commercial
properties (mostly individual plots of land). The Agency acts
as a client for the two contracts.
The Agency keeps the property portfolio, and its
management under continuous review. Approximately 430 properties
(valued at £30m) are in the process of being sold and the
number of residential properties is forecast to reduce by 25%
by 2012. A new residential property contract which will be let
from 2007 has been drafted with input from property management
experts, giving a much more robust document, with challenging
Cost of the Agency's offices
- The confusion between the
Agency Chief Executive and the Finance Director over the staffing
and costs of the London office is disgraceful. It is clear that
they have no grip on this issue. It is clear to us that taxpayers'
money is being wasted by the Agency maintaining a London office.
It should seek to negotiate an early release from its lease. If
this is not possible, then the Department should ensure that any
future spare capacity is utilised by the Agency, or by other public
bodies. In any case, we expect the Agency to conduct a value for
money assessment of the London office in the light of falling
staff numbers and explain to the Committee how it intends to utilise
the spare capacity over the remaining years of the lease. (Paragraph
The Chief Executive, who is a member of the DfT Board,
and his senior executives and immediate staff need to be located
near to the central Department.
The Agency manages its office estate in accordance
with an estate strategy which is reviewed regularly. The London
office rent is competitive and we continue to ensure that we use
the space to the full and get maximum benefit from the facilities.
We are looking to co-locate the corporate centre when the opportunity
Article '14' directions
- There is a fundamental disagreement
between the Department and the Agency on the one hand, and regional
bodies and local authorities on the other, about why 'Article
14 directions' are used and whether they are effective. (Paragraph
- This is a matter which impacts on vital regeneration
projects where transport links, development and the associated
employment and inclusion benefits are required. The Agency cannot
sit complacently back and do nothing about what are obviously
real concerns for these communities. We would like to see the
Agency making an effort to engage with local authorities and other
groups and undertake to explain clearly why individual directions
are issued and how they can be brought swiftly to an end. (Paragraph
A fundamental aspect of the Agency's role in the
planning process is ensuring safety and managing congestion on
the strategic network. The use of Article 14 directions is essential
in ensuring that new development can proceed, consistent with
the needs of existing road users, including business users and
hauliers upon whom the country's economic well-being depends.
The Agency works energetically with local planning
authorities (LPA) and developers to develop greater understanding
of the legislative and policy framework within which the Agency
works. A good degree of understanding has been established through
regular liaison and face to face discussion. We already receive
a great deal of positive feedback from various players in the
planning community. But, it is the case that developers have a
vested interest in making complaints about the use of Article
The Agency receives on average around 15 planning
applications per day. On the basis of figures for 2005/06, the
Agency did not raise any objections in 75% of cases and agreement
was reached through negotiation with the applicant in a further
10%. Of the remainder, most are subject to ongoing discussion.
It is the provision of adequate information by developers that
is the key to progress in most cases and the Agency must therefore
have a robust mechanism and effective powers for obtaining that
In only around 5% of cases did the Highways Agency
direct the LPA not to grant planning permission - most of those
were as a result of safety concerns.
Examples of the Agency's proactive engagement with
the planning community include:
Agency encourages meetings with developers to agree the transport
implications of their proposals and the mitigation measures required
(if any) before an application is lodged with the LPA. Where this
happens, the formal consultation with the Agency is much quicker.
The Agency wants to improve the take-up by developers of its offer
of these early meetings through better and wider ranging publicity.
publication in 2004 of the leaflet 'Planning a development near
one of England's motorways or trunk roads?' to assist developers
in engaging with the Agency. This has been distributed widely
to developers and LPA. We will, however, look at whether the advice
needs to be revised to address the needs of the planning community
publication by the Department for Transport and the Department
for Communities and Local Government of a consultation draft circular
on 'Planning and the Strategic Road Network' as a replacement
for circular 04/2001. This document, to which the Agency contributed
extensively, will bring our policy more closely in line with broader
planning and transport policy and sets out the Agency's role as
a delivery partner to the new Development Plans. Significant emphasis
is placed on the principles of sustainability and the need for
the Agency to be involved from the earliest stages of the preparation
of the various elements that make up the Development Plan.
'Guidance on Transport Assessments' is also being consulted upon.
The Agency contributed to this document, which provides advice
to developers on assessing the transport impacts of their proposed
developments and on developing measures to mitigate any adverse
third consultation document, 'Guidance on Agreements with the
Secretary of State for Transport under section 278 of the Highways
Act 1980'. This updates the advice formerly included as an annex
to Circular 04/2001 and introduces new forms of agreement to assist
developers in the delivery of highway impact mitigation measures.
As noted above there is currently consultation underway
on revised guidance around the way in which development, which
has an impact on the strategic road network, is treated in order
to strengthen the Agency's role in facilitating such development.
The Agency is also looking at the potential for developing Memoranda
of Understanding with LPA in urban areas, which will make clear
what each party will do throughout the planning process. These
have been piloted successfully in South Yorkshire and the Agency
is currently working with other authorities to develop the initiative
- The 'water preferred' policy
does not appear to be encouraging more freight onto the inland
waterways as intended. Since the Highways Agency assumed responsibility
for the policy in 2003 they have not published a single significant
piece of research or guidance on it. Little real effort has been
made to divert freight off the roads and onto the water, particularly
'abnormal indivisible loads'. Indeed, we have received evidence
that the Agency's own policies are working in the other direction.
To encourage the transfer of freight from roads to
water borne transport the Agency applies a water preferred policy
in respect to the larger and heavier abnormal indivisible loads.
The Agency implements the policy by considering the cost and practicability
of moving these loads by water and will refuse to grant permission
to move by road wherever there is a practical, economic and environmentally
desirable water alternative.
A major constraint in moving more abnormal loads
by inland waterways is the high economic cost relative to road,
which is often aggravated by the need to overcome practicability
issues. The Agency has to act reasonably in applying the water
preferred policy and with this imbalance of costs there comes
a point when the additional cost of using inland waterways would
be unreasonable and thus a road move would be permitted. Another
significant constraint is the unavailability of suitable water
navigations and sites. In the majority of cases there is no appropriate
intervening waterway between a load's origin and destination that
would reduce the overall road mileage and there would be little
point in imposing a water move if this would result in no appreciable
reduction in either road mileage or congestion. The limited impact
of the water preferred policy in respect of abnormal loads was
recognised by the Freight Study Group
who in their 2002 report acknowledged that the movement of these
loads by water "will be neither frequent nor a major factor
in the transfer of traffic from roads".
The Agency seeks to exploit the opportunities to
use water that remain and is doing this through initiatives which
include a government/industry working group to identify a network
of strategic waterside sites on the UK commercial waterway network.
The abnormal loads that cause the greatest disruption and congestion
are typically the equipment of power generation and distribution
companies and the Agency is conducting a series of strategic reviews
with these companies, including National Grid who have 220 substation
sites, to ascertain the potential for delivery by water.
The use of inland waterways will only be a viable
alternative for a small number of abnormal loads due to the economic
and practical issues. Therefore the Agency must develop other
measures to minimise the traffic congestion caused by these loads.
These include moving loads at off peak times, such as at night,
and reviewing the current 12mph speed limit for the heavier loads.
These measures are all aimed at reducing congestion and contribute
to the journey time reliability Public Service Agreement (PSA)
- While moving such heavy
loads by road might be the most commercially convenient form of
transportation, this Committee believes that it is neither sustainable
nor necessary. At the very least, and given that the Agency has
responsibility for this policy, it should insist that its own
contractors use water where possible. We want to see much more
effort by the Agency to make the currently failing water preferred
policy bite. (Paragraph 147)
The water preferred policy is applied to abnormal
loads moved on behalf of our contractors with the same rigour
as it is applied to any other similar application. However, the
constraints as outlined previously would still apply and therefore
we would only insist on movement by water if it is practical and
Response to the Committee
- The Agency's inability to
furnish the Committee with relevant information within the prescribed
deadlines is sadly indicative of the incompetence and disorganisation
which, in too many areas, still characterises this Agency. Next
time the Agency appears before this Committee we expect it to
be able to provide information on time. (Paragraph 151)
The Committee raised 21 further questions in addition
to the information requested during the oral evidence session
of 15 February. Responses were provided to 20 of the questions.
The outstanding information related to scheme forecasts. The delay
and the reason for the delay, because of verification work that
was in progress with the National Audit Office, were both explained
to the committee. The final response was made on 7 April. The
committee then made two further requests for more detailed information
on the same subject.
The Agency understands the importance of providing
the Committee with prompt and accurate information and where complete
information is available it aims to meet all the deadlines set
by the Committee. Where this is not possible the Agency will continue
to provide an interim response with the reason for the delay and
details of when the final response will be provided.
1 The Freight Study Group, formed of representatives
from a wide range of bodies connected with the waterways, was
set up by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the
Regions in November 2000 to examine the scope for increasing freight
traffic on the inland waterways of England and Wales. Back