Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)




  380. What sort of consultant was that?
  (Mr Bennett) Catalyst, it is the name of the consultant we had in to help us with it. We have addressed the whole of the telephone area in broad terms. In fact, as I say, telephone performance now is back on line. I think the problem you are referring to was an availability one and in terms of dropped calls, we were losing 6 per cent of dropped calls and that has now come right down to 0.7 per cent, and we are in the high 90s of people who can get through. There was a combination of issues. One was the number of queries which accelerated on photocards on licences and, secondly, we did have some problems with BT line availability as well as our internal process problems.

Mr Donohoe

  381. You do not have any responsibility for enforcement itself? There is a new number plate in Scotland which salesmen can sell you with a Scottish flag on it, how active are you in asking the police to prosecute people who have those, because it is almost every new car that is coming out of the showroom now has that flag instead of the Union Jack, which I think it must be down here they put on it?
  (Mr Bennett) That is partly what we were talking about in terms of VCRAT and in particular that issue of number plate standardisation which will come out through the VCRAT Bill. By having registered suppliers of number plates, and by having a laid down criteria—for example it is the country with the European stars—


  382. You are not telling us we have to have that on?
  (Mr Bennett) That is the requirement, yes.

  383. Do you also supply the mud with which we can cover it up?
  (Mr Bennett) Basically the laid down criteria we enact is the—

  Chairman: I know you have to do what you are asked.

Mr Donohoe

  384. That is coming from Europe and you have no control over it?
  (Mr Bennett) It is also passed through legislation.

  385. The policemen in Scotland are burning a blind eye to that, are you saying after this Bill goes through and becomes an Act it will become more of a problem and the police will be almost duty-bound to stop people? They will stop almost half the population of Scotland.
  (Mr Bennett) Yes, you are quite right.


  386. To be fair, they are already stopping half the population of Scotland.
  (Mr Bennett) People can put on number plates what they like at the moment. The whole objective of the law is to standardise the plates and ensure there is regulation, that we do stop and outlaw those kind of plates, mainly because the plates need to be a certain size which is able to be tracked, for example, by automatic cameras and so on. If you start having too much on plates, they cannot be read.

  Chairman: Then take the flag off.

Mr Donohoe

  387. It is exactly the same size. It is a nonsense that this is something which has crept into the system. I would think it would be better if there was none of that nonsense on a number plate at all. What representations, if any, would you make to Government that that was part of the legislation?
  (Mr Bennett) Our representation has been really to make sure that we get the maximum size of plate. We work very hard to make sure the number plate identity is clear. What goes on the side, the stars, is something which has been imposed through legislation in Europe but I think the stars are voluntary. What is not voluntary is changing that for lots of other signs and confusing the issue. So people, for example, can put dragons on the car but not on the plate.

  388. Dragons are probably better than stars. When do you think this is going to come to be absolute and the police are going to have to follow this through?
  (Mr Bennett) Bear in mind the police are very much involved with the whole VCRAT Bill. We have consulted on this and worked with them because they want to regulate number plates—

  389. Are these policemen coming from north of the border or is it representations from England?
  (Mr Bennett) It is across the police forces. We work with an advisory group of all policemen, the chief police, ACPO.

Mr Stevenson

  390. I wanted to move on to the Vehicle Certification Agency. Mr Harvey, I want to talk about targets if I can. Accordingly to our information you have a number of key targets, one of which is to issue all invoices within one month of completion of all certification assessment activities. Only 49 per cent of such invoices were issued within a month, according to your information. Why is that?
  (Mr Harvey) This is one of our non-statutory activities, the management system certification activity, and we realised we were not doing very well on this but we did not have very good information about the length of time of invoices, so we set this as a target in order to lever-up the performance, if you like. The 49 per cent we achieved in the first year of that target set the benchmark. These are quite complex invoices in that sometimes contractors are working for us and agents overseas, and since that time we have had to work with them so that the information that they supply to us can be speeded up.

  391. As a lay person, if you do not mind me saying, we are not living in the day of the Pony Express, we have got faxes, e-mails, all sorts of electronic gadgets, allegedly designed to improve our performance. In that context this 49 per cent, even though it is a non-statutory activity, is not acceptable, I would have thought.
  (Mr Harvey) I agree it was not acceptable but we set the target to find out where we were, to force us to put in a good measurement system so we could generate the figure, and from then on to improve it.

  392. Do you intend to hang on to the one month target or are you going to change that?
  (Mr Harvey) We would like to change that. It is to our advantage to get that money in as quickly as we can.

  393. So if there is to be a change, that would be reduced, would it?
  (Mr Harvey) Yes.

  394. What about your cash flow? This must have an important effect on your cash flow situation.
  (Mr Harvey) This does have an impact on our cash flow.

  395. Can you give us some idea of what effect it has?
  (Mr Harvey) It is difficult to disaggregate this from the rest of our cash flow. All of our charges are in arrears but this would be costing us something like £10 to £20,000 a year. It has another detrimental effect on us which is that because of the cyclical nature of this, the timing of this through the year, it also gives us a risk on our net running costs limit at the end of March, so it is an important thing for us to improve on.

  396. Can I move on to the targets you have to ensure that 95 per cent of assessment reports are error-free when reviewed by the Head of Operations. Again, you have not met that target. In terms of amount, you only met 90 per cent according to the information.
  (Mr Harvey) That is again true and it follows the same pattern as the other one. We felt we wanted to do better here, we did not have information which gave us this data, so we set a target based on auditing some of the information from previous years in order to lever-up our performance on this particular area.


  397. When did you do that?
  (Mr Harvey) 1998-99. We failed to meet this target in 1999-2000, but I am pretty confident we will meet it this year.

Mr Stevenson

  398. You are confident. How many of these assessment reports does your Agency do a year?
  (Mr Harvey) About 300 a year.

  399. They are quite important?
  (Mr Harvey) They are important. I ought to say that because there is an error in them does not mean to say it has been a poor assessment or that there has been some fault necessarily in the way the assessment was carried out, some misjudgments.

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