The Blog

Government Complacency Means Further Chaos Looms for Drivers

Unless the new Government stops ignoring concerns, and ends the complacency, I fear that only further chaos looms ahead.

New Government, same problems.

This week saw the final abolition of the 'Counterpart Driving Licence' - the green paper sheet holding a drivers' convictions and entitlements. It has been replaced with an online database, the 'MyLicence' system. The change was promised by the former Coalition to cut costs and save time for motorists and businesses. But surprise, surprise the digital switch has not gone smoothly.

The information on the paper counterpart is vital for many employment, road safety and enforcement purposes - used to carry out safety checks on HGV drivers, for car-hire by the rental and leasing industry and by the Police. That is why I have been warning the Government for months that motorists and businesses need a robust replacement.

But what have we seen? Widespread confusion about the change, particularly because Ministers clearly have not thought through how holiday car rental will work. Travellers wishing to rent a car abroad will now need to generate a digital code which expires after just three days. What use is that for those who need a car in an emergency - or those who don't have access to the internet abroad?

And widespread anger too, because the MyLicence site has frequently crashed since it was launched on Monday. After the DVLA's technical problems on the day the paper tax disc was abolished, there are no excuses for this Government's failure to prepare for the digital switch. The chaos risks continuing over the summer as British people heading abroad for their holidays will be reliant on this website for renting a vehicle.

So why didn't Ministers heed warnings from Labour, the AA and from the British Vehicle and Rental Licensing Agency (BVRLA) about the need for proper communication and planning to ensure the change is managed well? Complacency. Over the past three years a Government reform programme has quietly been causing chaos within the motoring agencies - not only in DVLA, but in the former Driving Standards Agency (DVSA), Vehicle and Operator Service Agency (VOSA) and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) too.

They may sound fairly technical and insignificant. That is clearly the view of Tory Ministers, who have continued to completely ignore Labour's concerns. Since 2013, we've seen DVLA services hit from the rushed closure of 39 local offices, a failed part-privatisation of the VCA, and the taxpayer hit with a £2.5 million bill after a driving theory test fiasco. That is before we get started on rock-bottom staff morale following a merger of the DSA and VOSA, concern about vehicle safety checks and increasing delays to driving tests for learners.

This catalogue of chaos was why I called on the National Audit Office to review the motoring agency 'modernisation.' They did so, and were unsurprisingly unable to find a coherent plan for reform with the Department for Transport at all. Sadly, Ministers are more bothered about cutting the ribbon on new road schemes than leading a successful modernisation of the tax, licensing, testing and vehicle safety services that the public and vehicle industry relies on.

Unless the new Government stops ignoring concerns, and ends the complacency, I fear that only further chaos looms ahead.