What will it mean for Traffic Commissioners, Operators and Practitioners?
In December 2015, an implementation plan was published by the Department for Transport (the Department) in response to the recommendations of the Triennial Review of the Traffic Commissioners published in March 2015. That Review had considered the role of Traffic Commissioners (TCs) and how they can function more effectively. It had concluded that the current system worked well and had a wide level of industry support. Not all the recommendations were followed, but below is a summary of those that were. The immediate priorities of the implementation plan focus on reducing average transaction times. Many of the recommendations are proposed to be implemented without legislation, but the response also identifies a package of legislative changes that would improve the service performance and the functioning of public inquiries, including introducing tribunal rules and awarding costs.
The role of a TC will continue in its present form, both making decisions about operator licensing and fulfilling a tribunal function. The position might have to be reviewed if there are changes in wider Government policies and approaches to non-departmental public bodies. The Department did consider whether separating the TCs’ operator licensing function from the tribunal role would be advantageous, with the authority to issue licences residing away from the TCs, for example in one of the motoring services agencies. If the TCs became a tribunal only, this could focus their time on compliance matters and reduce transaction times. However the Department considered that there would be risks to quality control in dealing with the non-compliant, possible extra pressures on enforcement costs and more appeals (and hence higher costs).
The IT system for Office of the Traffic Commissioners (OTC) is 15 years old and is being replaced in the first half of this year. The new system will speed up transaction times for applications for operator licence variations, new applications and renewals, where there are no significant complications (such as an inquiry being needed), from nine weeks to eight weeks on average. The OTC will streamline applications to identify where delays in processing application occurs. The intention is to reduce the average transaction time for operator licence variations, new applications and renewals by a further week to seven weeks on average. The Department will consider once the IT modernisation has been completed and has been in operation, what degree of time savings service users might obtain from paperless processes and how this might impact on unlawful operation of vehicles. Any change would require amending regulations and would not be likely to be implemented before 2018.
The basis on which fees currently levied will be revised to reflect more closely actual costs as they vary between different types of transaction and size of operator and to recognise that consideration of new applicants requires considerable administrative resource. It could include removing the five yearly renewal requirement and increasing fees for larger operators whilst reducing them for smaller ones. There is currently an imbalance between the passenger and haulage industries in terms of the contribution they make to the licensing system and the resources required to administer them. Restructuring of fees will address that situation.
The Department has asked the Senior Traffic Commissioner (STC) to arrange for the review of the current Framework document that sets out the role of a TC by the end of 2016. This is to ensure that the OTC operates independently of DVSA and the Department in line with the Nolan principles. The plan considers the role of the STC and whether they can be given a formal leadership role with responsibility over TCs and deputy commissioners. One of the STC’s key existing powers is to issue Statutory Guidance and to issue Statutory Directions. The Department will consider further whether legal changes could be made to develop a managerial role for the STC and improved governance of TCs. Any changes are likely to require primary legislation, and therefore unlikely to come into effect before 2018, and would need to be consistent with the judicial functions. The Department will consider whether there should be a specific Traffic Commissioner for the STC’s area.
The Department will consider further developing the option of a single goods vehicle operator’s licence for the whole of Great Britain. Only about 2,500 of the 90,000 licensed goods vehicle operators are multiple licence holders and less than half of these have licences in more than two areas. The option will not be introduced without consideration of the fees structure for licences, including checking fees related to such a national licence did reflect the administration costs incurred. Larger fleets tend to result in greater administrative costs for the licensing authorities and the Department does not wish for local licence holders to be effectively subsidising a new national licence. A national licence would require legislative change and is unlikely to be introduced before 2018.
The Department agrees that there is a case for significant change related to the TCs’ involvement in the environmental matters for goods vehicle operating centres. It will examine legislative changes to improve the efficiency of the current process in relation to advertising requirements, as well as the option to move this function to local authorities. The current advertising requirements impose significant costs on applicants (advertising costs averaging about £350), with relatively little effect in that only 2% of the 10,000 to 12,000 advertised applications a year receiving any representations. Options for changing the process of advertising being examined further include using procedures similar to planning notices. TCs would seek the views of only the police and local authority and on-line only advertising. These would require legislative change, with introduction unlikely before 2018.
The Review recommended that a set of formal tribunal rules are introduced to formalise the processes leading to and at public inquiry. The current statutory document does not have sufficient standing to ensure the effective operation of the inquiry process and offers no potential for costs against parties who fail to conduct themselves properly.
The Department recognises that existing tribunal rules are in place for many judicial processes. Tribunal rules could be applied in particular to public inquiries and associated processes. There is the potential to levy charges for costs incurred by non-compliant operators, similar to the mechanisms used in the judicial system to levy costs on those found guilty of an offence or unsuccessful in civil proceedings. The proceeds would assist service improvement or fee reduction.
It is not uncommon for inquiries to be adjourned or cancelled at the last minute due to the late arrival of additional information. This puts additional burdens on TCs and their staff, as well as abortive costs in some cases. A formal set of rules would reduce this behaviour, because of the greater risk of financial consequences. The Department would also look to extend this to appeals to the Upper Tribunal. These frequently involve a cost to the system in preparing a defence only to find the appellant withdraws late in the process.
The Department therefore proposes to work with advice from the TCs on drafting a set of tribunal rules. These would need legislative change to be introduced, which makes introduction before 2018 unlikely. Hopefully, practitioners will be consulted on the drafting of these rules.