Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

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DVLA 2002-03 Trust Statement (HC 336-i)

Public Accounts Committee 9 Feb 2004

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Oral Evidence given by Mr Clive Bennett, Chief Executive, Mr T Horton, External and Corporate Services Director and Mr I Griffiths, Finance and Strategy Director, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

Q102 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): When you get to this stage in the meeting, Mr Bennett, just about everything has been asked. I have got to say that you have thrown me off guard because when I read this report I thought to myself it was not a very good report but in your answers you have given a totally different impression of the organisation. I am just wondering whether we both read the same report, to be quite honest. After all your answers to the questions that have been put to you about how successful the DVLA is, you still lose about £200 million a year, do you not?

Mr Bennett: On?

Q103 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You keep asking questions back.

Mr Bennett: You mean on evasion? Yes, about 193 million but, as I said earlier on, 110 million will be claimed back through enforcement and induced re-licensing.

Q104 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You give the impression that everything is hunky dory and everything is not hunky dory, is it?

Mr Bennett: No, I am not. I hope I did not give that impression.

Q105 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): The performance is not very good at all, is it? You are presiding over an organisation that is perhaps one of the most used organisations, public services, in the country. If you want to drive a motorcar you have got to go through your organisation. Quite frankly, you are antiquated, you are old-fashioned, you are non-consumer friendly. In fact, you must be the most non-consumer friendly organisation in the country where 80% of your business is done through the Post Office. If I want to ring up Tesco's and order over the telephone I can or if I want to pay my bank account I can, if I want to pay my Mastercard I can do it over the telephone, but if I want a licence I have got to go to the Post Office, there is no other way of doing it. That is not very consumer friendly in the 21st century, is it?

Mr Bennett: I think you are absolutely right and, as I tried to answer earlier, I am not trying to get out of that at all. It is true to say that we should give consumer choice. One of the problems is we have not had an electronic vehicle licensing process.

Q106 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Why not?

Mr Bennett: We have it now.

Q107 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What has taken you so long? I have been paying my Visa card by telephone, pressing a few buttons, for about the last eight years.

Mr Bennett: One of the points that is very interesting is, for example, even assuming we have the electronic in place I would think it is a form of credit card abuse. There is a real issue over the use of credit card with tax because at the end of the day to pay for 4.6 billion at the percentage of a credit card is a lot of money for an agency and it would have to be hypothecated, which is not on. We need to have a mechanism and we are in discussion with the Treasury and the Department to get that to Finance Bill. We tried to do that last year and we are trying again this year to get credit cards, to get credit cards in there so we can have a convenience charge.

Q108 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Why can you not pay at the supermarket?

Mr Bennett: Sorry?

Q109 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Why can you not pay at the supermarket?

Mr Bennett: That is another channel. It may well be that there are other channels but at the moment I thought the issue we were talking about was financial, the credit card issue.

Q110 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am giving you examples of how you can become more consumer friendly. If you can buy Lottery tickets in the supermarket, why can you not tax your car?

Mr Bennett: It is a good point but at the moment ----

Q111 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You will be able to vote in the supermarket very shortly. Why can you not pay your car tax?

Mr Bennett: Because at the moment it is the Post Office.

Q112 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): It is the Post Office's fault?

Mr Bennett: Sorry?

Q113 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): It is the Post Office's fault?

Mr Bennett: The Post Office has mechanisms established and the consumers, contrary to what you have said, actually like the Post Office.

Q114 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I do not. I have got to go to the Post Office but I would rather pick up the telephone on a Sunday afternoon and just press a few buttons to pay my bill.

Mr Bennett: That is fine and that is something you will be able to do starting this month as an electronic link. The vast majority of people who want face-to-face service like the Post Office. We do regular customer surveys and every time we do those customer surveys the Post Office comes out as very popular and, indeed, we have increased our popularity rating with the public. I think it is probably inaccurate to say that we are not consumer friendly but I do think you are right when you say that we should be offering choice. What we do not give consumers at the moment, or have not until this month, is the electronic choice, which is what the electronic government is about. When we have this in place during the course of this year our aim is that certainly by 2006 something like 23% of people will take up the electronic option to tax their vehicle. We are aiming to drive it up close to 40%, 37% by 2016. There will always be some people through social exclusion, unless we change that principle, who will need something like the local Post Office to use it. It is a mixed approach.

Q115 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Social what?

Mr Bennett: Social exclusion. There are some people who just are not comfortable with computers and do not want to use them.

Q116 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): We will not go down that line. I will tell you something else I found out about your organisation and that is you are not very MP friendly either. When we have complaints it is very difficult to get through to somebody who can take it up, or who will take it up over the telephone. When we phone up the Department of Work and Pensions or the Inland Revenue there is always an MPs' line that we can go to but when I have tried to take up a complaint about DVLA I can never get through, all I get is a ----

Mr Bennett: I am disappointed to hear that. I will look into that because that is important. In terms of written correspondence we have a very good hit rate.

Q117 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You could have an MPs' helpline, could you not?

Mr Bennett: It is a thought. We will have a look at that. I genuinely think it is worth looking at that.

Q118 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Good answer. I digress a little bit, but the other thing I have found about DVLA is when I have a complaint about the regional office ---- You have a regional office, do you not?

Mr Bennett: We have local offices, yes, 40 of them.

Q119 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): It is like talking to two different organisations because one organisation does not know what the other organisation is talking about. This was on an issue of somebody who had got a personal licence plate, had a crash and had written their car off and they had a problem re-registering because the regional office was saying one thing, Swansea was saying something else, the region handled part of it and the DVLA in Swansea handled the other part. It was so frustrating that I found it very difficult to try and solve this problem.

Mr Bennett: Is this recently?

Q120 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Yes. About a year ago, I suppose.

Mr Bennett: The policy works in both exactly the same. We have got 40 dispersed offices with a board director who reports to me and we have got the same policy in local offices. Then we have a central operations director who works for me and they work hand in glove in terms of the policy application. Of course, there are differences in the application. If you have got a direct instance I would look at that.

Q121 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I got it sorted in the end but it would be handy if you did set up something. Can I tell you something that my constituents would be very, very annoyed about, if they were paying anything to the London congestion charge. We have our own congestion charge. My constituency had the first congestion charge in the whole of the country, the Durham congestion charge, and I think London copied it but slightly on a bigger scale.

Mr Bennett: Slightly.

Q122 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): My constituents would be very annoyed if they thought they were giving any subsidy whatsoever to London because we pay enough subsidy as it is. Can you give us an absolute guarantee that none of my taxes and none of my licence fee goes to subsidise London?

Mr Bennett: I can from us because everything that we provide is paid for by London. That is not quite answering your question because I do not run the London congestion charge. Our costs are recovered from Transport for London.

Q123 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I hardly think Ken Livingstone will be coming to get anything from us.

Mr Bennett: That is the honest answer to the question, you do not subsidise anything through DVLA.

Q124 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Okay, that is fine. Let us move on to the enforcement and deterrent activities in the Department. It seems from listening to the answers that you have given to some of the questions that it is not very efficient. Jon Trickett went on about wheel clamping and we did not really get to a conclusion other than it costs £7 million to administer and you take in £2 million in revenue. Mr Horton, I think, said that it was a deterrent and it was necessary. It is important for the deterrent to be there, I agree with you, but if the deterrent is there why do you need to increase the amount and pay, what was it, £3 million more for the contract when you could have had exactly the same contract, the deterrent would still have been there, and you would not have cost the taxpayers an extra £3 million?

Mr Griffiths: One of the issues on this one is picking up £7.2 million to run the scheme and that includes some of the publicity and things. Part of it is the issue that Clive was trying to get into earlier on where we actually take about £2 million, £3 million direct back through our books, however the statisticians tell us that it actually generates somewhere around about £12 million through end use licensing. From our perspective we are generating £14 million as both a deterrent effect and generating money both for ourselves and £12 million for the Treasury out of that. It is still good value for the £7.2 million spent. That is where we were coming from. It actually underpins some of the other advertising activities that we do as a fallback position that reinforces the need to re-license.

Q125 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): That was not what I asked, to be quite honest. The point that was being made was that it was important to have wheel clamping there because it is a deterrent.

Mr Horton: Yes.

Q126 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What I am saying is you do not need to increase the cost of the deterrent because the deterrent is already there, so you do not need to increase a loss maker because the deterrent is there.

Mr Bennett: It is not a loss maker. Your point is valid that there is only so far you can take wheel clamping. Your point is a valid one in the sense that you cannot keep adding it ad infinitum. When we looked at the wheel clamping issue there was a need to push a little more wheel clamping out with the campaigns we have got going. It is not the singular answer and I have obviously failed to communicate this, which is our problem and we will write to you. It is not a singular answer, wheel clamping is one part of a collection of activities and in order to get coverage you need to do all of it.

Q127 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): That is the point I was going to lead to. The thing that seemed to be successful was the ANPR, which was very, very successful. You might have a number of ways of doing it but you have invested more in the most unsuccessful way and not enough in the one that is successful. That seems rather silly to me.

Mr Bennett: If I may dealt with it and it may not work in terms of trying to get this point over because I do understand that we have failed to communicate this well. We are not only using ANPR on our own. The point is when you come to ANPR you are dealing with along the road, catching the people, and they will be using our reports, using Transport for London, using the police, a lot of people out there catching people on the road. The wheel clamping is a unique thing that we are doing which is a back-up to all of that. You are not comparing apples with apples. At an agency level you are correct in what you say but at a corporate level in UK plc we have got a lot more along the road checking but not the benefit that wheel clamping has which is grabbing the person who is actually there at the point who is guilty of evasion. That is much stronger and tougher. When you are doing it along the road you have to go all through the mechanisms of proving the individual, where they were at the time, whether they are guilty, it is a much more difficult process. That is in a nutshell.

Q128 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): In a nutshell.

Mr Bennett: We have obviously failed.

Chairman: Thank you, Mr Steinberg. Thank you for telling us about the congestion charge in Durham. I am glad that when I was a student I was not charged for getting my old banger on Palace Green, which I only paid £90 for. It was taxed, of course.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I do not know why you needed to take your car in the first place. You were rich, that is why.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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