DVLA Management: Putting the Con in Consultation

Stampy Pete

Image © James HaleyDriver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) staff may have spent the last 16 years living with the looming spectre of redundancy but now, for local office workers at least, it’s about to become a reality.  The government’s plan to make over 1,200 people redundant over the next 24 months is ostensibly subject to a period of public consultation, but DVLA workers used to dealing with oily Agency management are already resigned to losing their jobs.

The DVLA is based in Swansea but operates a national network of 39 offices serving the public and the motor trade, mainly carrying out vehicle licensing and registration transfers.   The local offices also deal with more complicated casework including the registration of imports, kit-cars, and historic vehicles.  They are the first point of contact for the motoring public and the trade and also provide vital criminal intelligence to the police and other agencies.  The DVLA’s plan is to make these offices redundant by centralising operations at the Swansea H.Q and putting other services online. 

Back in November 2010 the DVLA denied claims from the PCS union that it was planning to shut the network after a leaked memo revealed an advanced plan for office closures[1].  Now the management have further insulted the intelligence of staff by publishing a phoney consultation paper[2] on the closures, with Chief Executive Simon Tse suggesting local offices are inefficient and Roads Minister Mike Penning calling them “expensive”[3].  PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said “”DVLA senior managers have previously denied this is what they were planning, so to announce it just two weeks before Christmas is insulting and devastating for staff[4].”

The consultation paper stresses the Agency’s past innovations in moving some transactions online and it points out the growing number of people making use of these services.  But what about the people who don’t or can’t use the internet?  Well, the paper provides little re-assurance that a firm plan is in place. “DVLA will consider how we can meet the needs of people who may require face-to-face and postal services.”  In other words: we’ll let you know.

And while the consultation paper says most transactions will be moving online, including the lucrative business of transferring registration marks from one vehicle to another, it skirts over the specifics.  It’s clear that parts of the DVLA’s operation will be farmed out to private firms: the Agency plans to use “a wider range of intermediaries…able to offer DVLA products and services.”  But just who these “intermediaries” are and whether they will call it outsourcing or privatisation is not addressed.  One can only assume the likes of Capita, KPMG, Siemens, and even Tesco might start lobbying for the business (if they haven’t already).  Whether this would actually represent a good deal for the taxpayer seems fairly irrelevant to the government as it is not part of the public consultation.

It also looks like the DVLA is willing to drop many of the current security procedures in favour of convenience.  For example, the plan to update a change of address online might be easier than having to return your registration documents for endorsement, but it will mean millions of duplicate documents in circulation; a sure-fire boon to car thieves, ringers and dodgy salesmen.

The biggest giveaway that office closures are already a done-deal is the wording of the questionnaire section[5].  This features just 7 questions and only three of them are likely to generate a negative response.  One question asks: “What kind of services would you like to see being delivered through electronic services?”  This is little more than inquisitive fluff designed to produce positive statistical feedback for the government’s plans.  Another question asks: “If you don’t currently use the DVLA’s online services, why not?”  Hardly a far-reaching enquiry when people’s jobs are at stake.  It’s easy to see how this questionnaire will produce findings that might be used to support the new policy.

So it’s bad news for local office staff and bad news for the public.  Who knows if it’s bad news for the taxpayer?  In any case, it sounds like good news for the private sector but for some reason they don’t want to discuss that in the consultation paper.

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