New improvements to operator licensing builds on the Traffic Commissioners’ Report for 2017/2018

The UK Government published the Traffic Commissioners Report for 2017/2018 in August 2018. In it, it set out the current state of the industry and licensing for operators in the sector.

In a recent blog at the end of last month, the GOV.UK team said it is continuing to explore ways to improve the vehicle operator licensing (VOL) system, citing the introduction of the Government’s Verify digital signature service after 83 percent of users said they’d be willing to use this service to sign applications.

An update on the Traffic Commissioners’ work this year

The Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain are the independent regulators for Heavy Goods Vehicles and Public Service Vehicles and the professional drivers of these vehicles in England, Scotland and Wales.

Over the 2017 – 2018 period, the Traffic Commissioners office dealt with:

  • 12,945 operator licence applications and variations
  • 1,400 public inquiries
  • 21,222 driver conduct cases

This huge volume of work reflects the importance and contribution of our industry to the UK’s economy. However, in recent years, drivers, operators and Industry Groups, including the Freight Transport Association (FTA), have highlighted the time it takes for licence applications to be processed.

The Senior Traffic Commissioner has recognised these concerns in this year’s report. It outlines the progress being made to improve operator licence application processing time. Same Day Couriers Direct welcomes this positive trend and is keen to see the improvement continue over the coming years.

The Traffic Commissioners’ strategic objectives

The road haulage industry is the UK’s fifth largest employer. Overall, our industry contributes £124 billion gross value add (GVA) to the UK economy.

To improve the performance of our industry the Traffic Commissioner has two key strategic objectives:

  • promote a safe road transport industry which supports compliance, fair competition and protects the environment
  • deliver a modern, effective operator licensing regime that ensures operators are fit to hold a licence whilst minimising the regulatory burden on the compliant

Historically, this second objective has led to the Traffic Commissioners office being targeted to deliver 85 percent of decisions on unopposed license applications within nine weeks of receiving an application.

For several years, the freight transport industry has campaigned for improvements to these processing times, arguing that the time taken does not enable flexible and responsive enough capacity within the industry.

Speeding up operator licence application processing

The introduction of new digital licencing services in August 2016 has helped to deliver improvements over the last year, reports the TC. It says the digital service delivers time savings, swifter correspondence, and a more intuitive application process.

Making the process more intuitive is important because the TC has previously stated that many applications have missing information. In 2015, Government figures showed that nearly 90 percent of operator licence applications sent to the Central Licensing Office (CLO) in Leeds are incomplete. This adds to average processing times.

The new digital process is averaging an operator license processing time of just over seven weeks. This compares to 11 weeks prior to the introduction of the digital service.

The TC office says it plans further improvements to streamline license application processing without compromising non-compliance or the checks in place to ensure applicants can achieve safe operations.

Improvements planned for 2019

Same Day Couriers Direct welcomes the announcement in the report that some of the licensing activities will be moved to fully online services over the next 12 months.

The TC’s own data shows that operators are confident and capable of using digital services. As a result, it has already removed its paper-based forms from GOV.UK for many of its main services. All main transactions will go fully digital in 2019, with only those transactions with very low volumes not moving online.

Other planned improvements include the acceptance of digital signatures through the Government’s Verify service and the introduction of automated notification processes. Same Day Couriers Direct welcomes these moves as they will help to improve the service at the same time as improving compliance.

Can operators expect four-week processing times soon?

Previously, the TC had set an ambitious target to reduce the time it takes to produce decisions on compliant license applications to just four weeks. It hoped to do this by April 2019.

In the 2017/2018 report, the TC acknowledged that this four-week target is unlikely to be achieved by April 2019. It reports “expectations must be managed” as a result of three impediments:

  • the need to legislative change to adjust the notice periods laid down in law. The TC has no control over this timescale and the current legislative calendar is occupied with Brexit-related work – so that the TC does not expect this to be on the Government’s agenda and, consequently, to secure a resolution any time soon
  • additional staff needs to be recruited
  • the need to address longstanding issues in the current fee structure

The TC has stated: “we are currently examining other interventions, which may allow us to refine the processing times towards four weeks.”

Same Day Couriers Direct look forward to further statements that will outline the other interventions that can be taken to improve the service.

Other announcements from the Senior Travel Commissioner

The 2017/2018 report from the Senior Travel Commissioner also highlighted several other areas of focus where improvements will be made over the next 12months:

  • promotion of a safe road transport industry
  • public inquiries listed for a full hearing within 12 weeks (in cases of non-compliance)
  • implementing a joint SLA on the evidence that will be provided by the DVSA (as the primary enforcement body)
  • continuing to work with the London Freight Enforcement Partnership (LFEP) and working more closely with the DVSA to target non-compliance
  • a review of TC sanction effectiveness and new investment to complete this analysis
  • publication online of all written decisions from April 2018 – thanks to the recruitment of a new Digital Communications Officer

These are all positive steps in the licensing and regulation of our industry. Same Day Couriers Direct looks forward to seeing good progress being made in all regards.

Read the full report here:

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