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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 419)



  400. For whom do you do these assessments?
  (Mr Harvey) Vehicle manufacturers, vehicle component manufacturers.

  401. If I were one of those manufacturers and there was an error of whatever nature in what I was paying you to do, and 30 of them per year had some error, I do not think I would be very happy.
  (Mr Harvey) That is what I am trying to explain. They are not errors in the quality of the report necessarily, in the assessment which was done on site and delivered to the manufacturer, but in the quality of the report that has to then go through a subsequent process, a further checking process. So perhaps there was not sufficient information for the next person who was checking that report to verify all the things had been done. One of the major things we have done to try to improve that is to educate the staff conducting the assessment on all the things they have to include in that report, so that it is a smooth process. I do not think we have any evidence that those are necessarily bad reports as far as the customer is concerned but they will be slowing down the time it takes to finally issue the certificate.

  402. If I was one of your customers and I understood that 10 per cent of your reports contained some error, I do not think that would inspire me with a great of confidence. Do you think that is unreasonable?
  (Mr Harvey) If they were errors in the elements of the report which affected that customer, that would not inspire me, but they are not necessarily errors of that type. They are omissions perhaps in the report which allow it to proceed on to the next stage.

  403. Another service and quality target is to ensure that all certificates should be issued within one month of the completion of assessments and closure of non-compliances. In the year 1999-2000, only 92 per cent of certificates were issued within a month. Again, another target you have failed to meet.
  (Mr Harvey) Indeed.

  404. Do you meet any targets?
  (Mr Harvey) We meet a lot of our other targets. All these were new targets in that year and all of them were set with the same aim in mind, which was to establish a measurement system for that area of work, score a benchmark and then improve against it. I think that is a perfectly good methodology to go through.

  405. Were your targets too rigorous or have your efforts so far not been as successful as you would want them to be?
  (Mr Harvey) The targets were based on an audit of some of the results in the previous years to give us a marker of about where we were. Our aim will be to improve on all of these targets.

  406. On these three targets I have highlighted, would you give us some indication of when you are likely to meet them?
  (Mr Harvey) I think we shall meet the first two in this current year, I am not quite sure we shall meet the third one. The third one is an absolute target and we have already missed one of those, so we will not meet that target this year.

  407. Next year?
  (Mr Harvey) I think we will meet them next year because we are learning a lot of lessons from this very process. Just identifying and measuring what we are doing is the crucial element of all this.

Mr Bennett

  408. Mr Harvey, are you a soft touch in Europe?
  (Mr Harvey) I do not think at all we are a soft touch. I would say we were the opposite of being a soft touch in Europe.

  409. But you are trying to win business from Europe, are you not? You are trying to persuade people to come for your certification. What advantage does someone have having your certification rather than going to one of the other European countries?
  (Mr Harvey) I think that is because we are not a soft touch, that our certification will not be questioned in other countries, we have a reputation which we are anxious to maintain in all those other countries which receive those certificates that they are good certificates and all issued on a sound basis. That is why a manufacturer would come to us. Aside from all the other benefits of VCA, he would have faith in those certificates.

  410. So other countries are entitled to accept your certification or reject it?
  (Mr Harvey) Strictly speaking they are obliged to accept our certification unless they feel or find there is some cause for concern that is detrimental to safety.

  411. Is there any other country within the EU whose certificates are not accepted in this country?
  (Mr Harvey) No, we are bound by the obligations of the EU Treaties and the Geneva Agreement, under which all this legislation is made, to accept those certificates.

  412. So what advantage do you have then over those other countries? You have said basically that you have no advantage over the other countries.
  (Mr Harvey) Each country is entitled to carry out some enforcement, some checking. It is not allowed to stop the vehicle or the component being registered or sold willy-nilly on a routine and random basis, but it can take out some enforcement action, or it could just be slightly awkward if it wished to at the point of registration. If we have a good certificate and it is well-respected, it is less likely they will do that sort of action.

  413. How do your costs compare to other EU countries?
  (Mr Harvey) The range of costs varies and it is very difficult to compare them. Not all of the other EU countries are operating, as we believe we are, on a full cost commercial recovery basis, but for those which are, we are very comparable. We think we are slightly cheaper than Germany, for instance, which is operating on that cost basis.

  414. Do you think in Germany they are applying exactly the same standards as you are?
  (Mr Harvey) We have a high degree of confidence in the way the German system works and we have a number of partners in Germany working with us, so we regularly visit them, audit their work, inspect the reports they send back to us, so that gives us quite a confidence.

  415. Which EU countries are running a subsidised service?
  (Mr Harvey) Some are running a subsidised service because they are funded in a different fashion, so they do not have to meet all their overhead costs, they only have to meet their direct running costs. Others are funded through the vehicle registration fee, for instance.

  416. Are you happy you are able to win what would be a fair share of the European market?
  (Mr Harvey) We think there are also some countries that may be looking to win some of this business and we are anxious, in conjunction with the Department, to promote a further discussion in EU fora about peer review to make sure standards are maintained.


  417. What does that mean, Mr Harvey, "We are anxious to promote discussion"? You mean they are not listening to you and you want to make sure they are aware of the fact there are differences?
  (Mr Harvey) We want to make sure we are all operating not only to the same standard but operating the standards in the same way, that we are all working on the same interpretation.

  418. That implies, firstly, that you are not and, secondly, you are still having to push to get it discussed properly.
  (Mr Harvey) We believe that there may be some inequalities because manufacturers tell us so. I do not think we are having to push. We are now pushing at an open door. We have raised this discussion in Brussels and Geneva and been invited to continue that discussion and put forward a structure which would help ensure standards are maintained.

Mr Bennett

  419. Can I move on to the Vehicle Inspectorate? You are promising to be more pro-active, what does that really mean?
  (Mr Newey) It means we want to target our activities much more effectively, so that we, for example, recognise there are three main categories of operator on the heavy goods vehicle and PSV side—the good, who we can largely leave alone; the striving, who are trying to do a decent job but are falling short in some way, who need quite a lot of attention; and the bad, who need a more severe system of penalties. Our intelligence systems which we are now developing with the help of information technology and so on are enabling us to do more effective targeting in that way. We know mainly which category each operator falls into. The other very pro-active thing we are trying to do is, recognising different people require different tailored attention according to the level of their compliance, we are putting more emphasis on education and advice for those people who we think will be receptive to it. We will still come down hard in a traditional enforcement way on those who deliberately flout the rules but there are some very good examples recently where we have tried a softer educational approach—I do not mean softer in terms of outcomes but in terms of trying to change behaviour—and have had some notable successes and we are trying to go more down that route. We have always done a degree of education and support for operators but we are recognising its value in road safety terms. It is true that levels of compliance have remained stubbornly at unsatisfactory levels for a number of years, and this is an initiative to take that forward, and get a step change in levels of compliance and therefore road safety.

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