A review into the function of the traffic commissioners (TCs) has recommended they are replaced with one independent tribunal body headed up by a statutory president role.
The department for transport’s (DfT) report into the work of the TCs also proposed overhauling the current fee structure in order that the operating deficit is removed and enabling it to be fully funded through the fees it charges.
And it also recommended addressing the traffic commissioner name and whether it should be changed to better reflect their role.
The 12 recommendations, which would have a significant impact on the way the TCs currently operate, followed a public consultation into the health and effectiveness of their function.
It suggested that the DfT proceeded with a change to allow the TCs to make tribunal rules, including cost orders: “With increased powers, the TCs would be better able to manage their hearings which should make them both more effective and more efficient in the longer term,” the report said.
“Further, these powers would also demonstrate the independence of the function and bring it more in line with other tribunal jurisdictions.”
The report said consolidating the eight TCs into one body would make managing the organisation less complex and replacing the senior TC with a president would improve governance arrangements and clarify lines of accountability.
“Such a change would make the function more like other tribunals which have a chamber president,” it said.
A recommendation was also made to employ a chief operating officer (COO) to manage the OTC staff and engage across a wide range of stakeholders: “The DVSA director of enforcement presently manages OTC staff, however this relationship whereby they oversee the staff of the OTC enhances a perception and inherent legal risk, that the TC function is ‘managed’ by DVSA enforcement, despite being a party to its hearings,” it said.
“In the medium term a COO will remove this perception and risk and improve stakeholder engagement across the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales, as well the number of policy areas reflected within the DfT policy forum.”
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Chris Powell, principal associate at law firm Weightmans, said if the recommendations were adopted they would fundamentally reform the licencing regime and affect all licence holders.
“The recommendation to replace individual traffic commissioners with a single specialist tribunal could mean stronger powers to take action against operators who don’t hit the mark,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the proposals to reform the fee structure would more than likely mean higher costs coming down the line for operators who run larger fleets.
“However, the big question hanging over this all is whether we’ll actually see anything change, given that we’d need new primary legislation, with limited parliamentary time and a looming general election,” Powell added.
“If anything will be prioritised, it seems likely it will be licence fee reform given that this would deliver a cost-neutral regulatory body, funded by industry, rather than one that currently operates at a deficit.
“We’ll all be eagerly watching to see how far this makes it down the road.”
In a statement, the TCs said they were pleased the review found they were operating effectively:
“We aim to support transport operators to keep goods and passengers moving while ensuring safety on our roads,” the TCs said.
“The specialist team has recognised the value of our varied functions and has raised a number of exciting options for change.
“The commissioners will work closely with the DfT to look at how those recommendations can be taken forward, although many will depend on Parliamentary time.”