Beverley Bell speaking at Search Consultancy event

Senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell

On Friday 31 May drew attention to senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell’s concerns about the way in which Vosa was conducting its enforcement activities – and that the “serially and seriously non-compliant” were slipping through the net. It was quite the accusation.

Bell’s evidence before the Transport Select Committee was explosive, so The Hub brings you some select comments. As part of the same oral evidence session Vosa chief executive Alastair Peoples also gave evidence, but was not present when Bell gave her statements, so we've got a selection of those too.

Bell on the independence of the Traffic Commissioners:

Louise Ellman MP: “Are you satisfied that the traffic commissioners are seen as independent when you share the same premises and the same secretariat with Vosa?”

Beverley Bell: “I think there is confusion amongst the industry about who the regulator is and who the enforcement agency is. It is a constant distraction. Traffic commissioners constantly have to say to everybody, "We are independent." I think, if we were in a different building or buildings, and if we had different e-mail addresses and our own identity, that distraction would go away.

“It also means there is always the concern that, one day, somebody is going to take a point of law and appeal on the basis that we are not actually independent of Vosa.”

Louise Ellman MP: “What would you like changed to make the separation clearer? What about branding-which you have mentioned in your written evidence?”

Beverley Bell: “Branding is one suggestion and one solution, but in some respects it is a bit like putting a sticking plaster over a wound that needs some stitches. Branding would make it easier, but it wouldn’t get rid of that constant problem and that constant distraction.”

Bell on targeted enforcement:

Louise Ellman MP: “You have also made some comments about Vosa’s enforcement activities and how some changes in the way they approach enforcement have affected the work you do. Could you tell us a little more about that?"

Beverley Bell: “All commissioners have grave concerns that Vosa is not targeting the serially and seriously non-compliant. I am concerned about some of the aspects of its report because it says that it is referring all convictions to us that it brings to court. In its stats for the last year, 2011-12, there were about 6,000 convictions that it says were referred to us. That is not the case. A quick call round my offices earlier today revealed in the region of 650 cases referred to us.

“Where are the drivers’ hours referrals? Where are the serious investigations? It is the view of all commissioners that this is not happening any more. We don’t get those serious cases brought to our attention. It is easy for Vosa to target the soft underbelly of the nice but incompetent small operators. It is much more difficult to target and enforce the tough hard core of highly non-compliant operators who show a total disregard for road safety.”

Louise Ellman MP: “What you have just said to us is extremely serious and raises very serious issues about road safety.”

Bell on her relationship with Vosa chief executive Alastair Peoples

Beverley Bell: “I see the chief executive of Vosa rarely. We have six-monthly or quarterly dates in the diary to have a catch-up on the telephone. That is not the issue. It is making sure that the right people at the right level know what is needed.”

Alastair Peoples Imperial Commercials

Peoples on targeted enforcement

Louise Ellman MP: “[Bell] has just expressed great concern to us about the way in which Vosa goes about its enforcement activities and the lack of involvement of the traffic commissioners. She has great concern about the areas covered, amounting to a problem in relation to public safety in general. Mr Peoples, are you aware of this issue?"

Alastair Peoples: "I don’t recognise the issue. For the past number of years we have been very successful in setting up a targeting regime that is benchmarked within Europe. It is something we call the Operator Compliance Risk Score. It has been very widely accepted within the industry as targeting those most in need of our attention at the roadside. We will be looking very closely at the evidence of what impacts most in terms of road safety, and we have been working very closely with stakeholders at all levels, whether it is within the [DfT] or the industry, in terms of identifying and highlighting the approach that we would have.

“It is of some concern that Mrs Bell has raised this because there is no evidence that I have found that that is the case.”

Louise Ellman MP: "Are you telling us that you are not aware of a major issue and major concerns from the traffic commissioners in relation to Vosa activities?”

Alastair Peoples: “The traffic commissioners have never raised those concerns with me.”

Peoples on cuts to front-line Vosa staff

Sarah Champion MP: “[Trade unions have] suggested that cuts to Vosa’s enforcement budget were leading you to curtail some enforcement activity. Is that the reality?”

Alastair Peoples: “In terms of cuts to Vosa’s enforcement activity we are a trading fund, so the funding of enforcement from the fee depends on the number of people who apply for annual tests. If there is less money coming in, then we have to look at how we spend that. The single enforcement budget has been maintained for this year. There has been no cut on that, although we were looking at what the impact of cuts would be over time.

“In preparing for this, we looked at the number of front-line staff. The number of front-line staff, whether it is vehicle testers on the testing side or examiners, is broadly the same as 10 years ago. We have much better tools in terms of ANPR weigh-in-motion sensors. We look at targeting through the OCRS. There is much greater use of intelligence. I see no significant cut on the enforcement budget at all.”

You can read the full transcript of the session on the House of Commons website