Conclusions and recommendations |
HGV and PSV enforcement
1. We recognise that the use of private sector sites may be helpful in cutting costs and ensuring that operators receive a flexible annual testing service. However, we believe that any move towards complete privatisation of test sites would disproportionately affect smaller operators who have fewer resources. We further believe that certain areas of the country would be less profitable and could consequently be under-served by the private sector. Therefore, we recommend that VOSA be required to retain a significant network of sites in order to maintain adequate coverage for annual testing throughout the UK and to safeguard VOSA's role as the independent enforcement agency.
2. The Committee acknowledges that fees for annual testing must reflect the costs of providing this service. However, changes in fees must be fair and above-inflation increases must be justified with real improvements in services. A move towards private sector involvement should reduce costs and therefore we will be looking for much greater flexibility in the numbers and times of test slots available before any future fee increases are proposed.
3. We welcome the use of targeting mechanisms such as the Operators Compliance Risk Score in order to allocate resources most effectively and to apprehend successfully those most likely to be non-compliant. However, the OCRS mechanism is just one aspect of enforcement and VOSA should not rely on this score alone when targeting vehicles for inspection.
4. The Operators Compliance Risk Score is a valuable tool for enforcement purposes, but it should not be regarded as a direct indicator of operator reliability or quality for unrelated purposes. If OCRS scores are made available to third parties, VOSA needs to be sure that it indicates the limits for how such scores should be used, and how to interpret them appropriately.
5. The number of foreign-registered heavy goods vehicles on Britain's roads, particularly from the newer EU Member States, is rising. They bring unacceptable levels of non-compliance with basic road safety standards. We recognise that the Government and VOSA cannot specifically target foreign operators, but it is imperative that the Government works intensively to identify ways to improve enforcement and compliance among foreign-registered heavy goods vehicles.
6. We are pleased to see the Government and VOSA initiating schemes, such as the High Risk Traffic Initiative (HRTI), which concentrate additional funding and staff resources on those vehicles that pose the greatest risk to road safety, often foreign-registered vehicles. It can only be right that resources are concentrated where they are most likely to save lives. This is a significant step in the right direction, but we are concerned whether the number of additional staff is adequate, and we urge the Government and VOSA to take immediate action if it becomes clear that more staff is required for such schemes.
7. We welcome the introduction of the Graduated Fixed Penalty, Financial Penalty Deposit and Immobilisation Schemes. We believe it will enhance VOSA's ability to punish and deter non-compliance among non-UK operators. However, the fines are small and we recommend that there should be increases so that there is a real level of deterrence. The Government and VOSA must continue to explore ways to strengthen VOSA's ability to enforce vehicle and drivers' hours standards among foreign operators on UK roads.
8. At European level, VOSA's enforcement work is seen as a model of best practice. We congratulate VOSA on this achievement.
9. We are pleased to learn that the UK is taking the lead on work to improve enforcement and vehicle safety within the European Union. We welcome the work that is being done by officials from both VOSA and the Department for Transport with the Transport Council and the European Commission to co-ordinate work and develop a Europe-wide database of information regarding the safety records of European operators. The implementation of a Europe-wide database is vital work which is urgently needed to help save lives across the continent. It is heartening that the Government and industry representatives are working together to educate colleagues elsewhere in Europe about the benefits of our system and standards.
vehicle operator licensing and reliability monitoring
10. We welcome the improvements to public service vehicle (PSV) operator licensing, but there are clear loopholes, which imperil the safety of passengers, that still need to be closed regarding the use of PSV operator licences on multiple vehicles. We recommend that appropriate legislation be introduced as soon as possible to make provision for the specification of vehicles on operator licences for public service vehicles.
11. If the new reliability and punctuality monitoring system is to be effective, the role of VOSA and all other relevant agencies must be clarified. However, we do not believe that VOSA currently has the resources to adequately undertake this responsibility on top of its existing remit. We recommend that the Government transfer the responsibility for monitoring punctuality and service reliability to local bodies such as Integrated Transport Authorities. At the same time, the possible efficiencies that might be achieved by a more high-tech approach to monitoring should be explored.
12. We welcome the improvement in relations between VOSA and the Traffic Commissioners over the past two years. It is essential that they work seamlessly together, and that communication between them is effective.
13. We continue to have concerns about the operation of VOSA's performance management system which may distort priorities so that crucial work in support of hearings by Traffic Commissioners is neglected. The system needs to be audited, and if necessary, adjusted to ensure that support for the enforcement work of Traffic Commissioners is given due priority.
14. We recommend that VOSA be granted right of access to all port premises where road vehicles enter the UK. This could, of course, be achieved through legislation, but a quicker and more effective option could be to establish a Memorandum of Understanding between VOSA and all UK port authorities. If all UK ports where vehicles enter the UK are part of the agreement, no port would be at a disadvantage compared to others. We recommend that the Department for Transport and VOSA explore the options with ports operators, but if no voluntary agreement is forthcoming, Ministers should not shy away from legislative action. We also recommend that the possibility of carrying out inspections at ports outside the UK should be pursued where feasible and desirable.
15. We welcome the progress which has been made by VOSA in terms of collaboration and information sharing with other agencies. These efforts must continue undiminished, with a particular emphasis on collaboration with the police. Collaboration facilitates optimal use of scarce resources. Also, information and intelligence is a key component of an enforcement policy which is based in significant measure on the targeting of the most likely offenders.
16. In order to maximise efficiency and reduce inconvenience to operators, VOSA examiners must have access to accurate and up-to-date information. Therefore, the adoption of an IT system which updates data instantly across the entire system must be a priority. If necessary, more resources should be made available to invest in better technology to achieve this.
17. We believe that aspects of current data protection legislation are a hindrance to successful targeting of foreign-registered vehicles. While it is very important to protect personal data from inappropriate use, it is unacceptable that information which could greatly improve road safety cannot be shared with the agency responsible for enforcing vehicle safety standards. The Government should give priority to legislative adjustments which would facilitate secure and effective data sharing between key government agencies such as VOSA and HMRC. In order to discharge its core functions effectively, VOSA needs to have the same access to Ships' Manifests and other key documents as is enjoyed by the HMRC. The efficiency of regulation and enforcement in areas where the responsibilities of several bodies' overlap could be greatly improved through better information sharing arrangements.
18. The fact that Britain has some of the safest roads in Europe is testament, among other things, to the success of VOSA's enforcement regime. It is crucial that VOSA has access to sufficient resources to continue to improve the standard of HGVs and PSVs on our roads. This can only be achieved through continued investment in technology and service improvements. However, it is clear from our evidence that significant improvement in enforcement activities is likely to result from better legislation and collaboration with other agencies and private companies such as ports, rather than simply from an increase in funding.