Few things are certain in an encounter with Senior Traffic Commissioner (STC) Beverley Bell, but those who have heard her speak at industry events will know that Mrs Bell is very likely to encourage operators to read her Statutory Guidance documents.
She stresses the importance of doing so often, and for good reason. The Statutory Guidance is issued to TCs, and it largely governs their actions when dealing with operators. While the vast majority of the latter never need to explain themselves to a TC, it pays to be prepared.
The documents have been revised by Mrs Bell with effect from 3 January. While many of the changes made are relatively minor, operators are strongly advised to read the documents. Although the more notable alterations are less significant than some seen in the past – forearmed is forewarned.
A new paragraph has been inserted in document three, which concerns Transport Managers (TMs). It states that “where a TM has failed to live up to the standards expected, the correct approach is to consider making a finding in respect of the TM’s repute.”
Loss of a TM’s professional competence may only be found under certain circumstances, the guidance continues.
“It is not open to a TC to find loss of professional competence unless there is a finding that the TM has never been professionally competent, or that there has been a previous declaration that the TM was unfit by reason of loss of good repute and has already had their certificate of professional competence (CPC) suspended.”
TCs may make other findings concerning a TM’s professional competence, the document says.
“There will be instances where it will be open to TCs to make a finding that a purported TM does not hold a valid CPC.
“Examples may include where it was forged, the holder was not entitled to the certificate in some other way, or that it has been suspended as a result of a finding of a loss of good repute elsewhere.”
For the benefit of TMs who find themselves in any of these situations, Mrs Bell tellingly adds a caveat. “The Upper Tribunal has indicated that, in such instances, it would be difficult to envisage circumstances in which such a finding would amount to a ‘disproportionate response’.”
A further change to the Statutory Guidance concerning TMs is in relation to grace periods for the appointment of a new post holder.
“There is scope for the TC to allow a period of grace of up to six months where the TM no longer satisfies the requirement as to good repute or professional competence. Any approach has to ensure fairness to all operators,” reads the document.
A period of grace is allowable to rectify unsatisfactory situations concerning the TM, but its granting is not guaranteed, the Upper Tribunal has ruled.
It has declared that TCs “will need tangible evidence, beyond mere hope and aspiration, that granting a period of grace will be worthwhile, and that there are reasonable prospects for a good outcome… there is no point in granting a period of grace if the likely effect is just to put off the evil day when regulatory action will have to be taken.”
A further paragraph in the guidance document adds that, when it is found that no accepted TM is in place for other reasons, the TC may allow up to six months to find a replacement. While any grace period is ultimately decided by the TC, in the case of death or physical incapacity of the TM, there may be an extension by a further three months.
A notable inclusion in the revised Statutory Guidance document nine concerns Welsh operators.
Where all “individual parties” – not including a government department or agency – are resident in Wales, or where the TC has classified it as a Welsh case, the Welsh language may now be used by any party or witness, or in any document placed before the TC, or at any hearing, including a Public Inquiry (PI).
Letters from the Welsh Area Traffic Office will contain advice that a PI can be held in the Welsh language, provided that a request is made by the subject at least 21 days in advance.
Whenever the Welsh language is used, the PI, “must take place at a venue with simultaneous translation facilities,” says the guidance.
The guidance also states that staff at the Office of the Traffic Commissioner acting under the delegation of the Welsh TC must ensure that an approved interpreter is present.
Operators, particularly the vast majority that obey the law, will be relieved that Beverley Bell’s final revisions to the Statutory Guidance documents are relatively minor.
The minimum hours of work expected for a TM to maintain effective control remain the same, but worthy of note is that the revised levels of financial standing are included. For an operator of 10 PCVs, the required sum has risen by a considerable 17.6%.
The next revision will be undertaken Mrs Bell’s as-yet unnamed replacement. It remains to be seen whether they stick to the ‘softly softly’ approach, or make more widespread changes.
Find out more
Statutory Guidance Documents at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/senior-traffic-commissioner-statutory-guidance-and-statutory-directions
Statutory Guidance documents
The Statutory Guidance Documents are issued by the Senior Traffic Commissioner and they explain the legal basis and the way that Traffic Commissioners will approach and exercise their statutory functions.
There are 15 documents, most – but not all – of which are revised annually and are a key part of the regulation of the PCV and LGV industries.