Get your DVSA stripes with Earned Recognition

The DVSA’s Earned Recognition scheme has been tested in the LGV sector for a number of months, and now the agency has confirmed that it is coming to PCVs. It rewards the most compliant operators and targets the rogues, but it’s give and take, as Tim Deakin reports

Being part of Earned Recognition may see the end of roadside checks

It’s the scenario all coach drivers dread. The day is going well, passengers are happy, and then from out of the blue, a DVSA examiner orders him or her into a roadside checkpoint.

For the compliant operator – and that includes the vast majority of the coach and bus industry – there is nothing to worry about from a reputational point of view.

But what can be a problem is the impact on passengers’ journeys, particularly if they on a time-critical trip such as to an airport; even a quick check can cause problems in some instances.

So the confirmation that the DVSA’s Earned Recognition Scheme will be coming to the PCV industry in the near future will be welcome among those operators who do the job properly, as for some operators it will – apart from in exceptional situations – do away with the roadside check entirely.

The same won’t be the case among those who regard compliance as unimportant, but Earned Recognition is part of a wider range of changes that will help DVSA to focus as much resource as possible on challenging the rogues while reducing the administrative and time burden on those who do their utmost to remain compliant.

Long story short…

The DfT’s wider Motoring Services Strategy document, published in April, outlines what Earned Recognition is all about.

“We agree with the leading organisations in the industry that there should be a culture of compliance. The DVSA has been developing a suite of processes through which it can better target its enforcement activities. These include recognition of compliant practices, remote enforcement, and improved ‘back office’ procedures,” it says.

“Better IT linkages will also help. Pilots of the Earned Recognition concept and the Remote Enforcement Office (REO) have demonstrated the value of working co-operatively with compliant operators.

“We will expand the scheme to all appropriately qualified operators who wish to take it up. Where appropriate, the DVSA’s inspectors will work alongside Highways England’s Traffic Officers to minimise the impacts of inspections.”

As suggested by the DfT’s text, Earned Recognition is a scheme that is entirely voluntary, and DVSA pledges that those who are eligible to take part but choose not too will not be thought any less of by the agency for making that choice.

When Earned Recognition is introduced, there will be nothing to compel even the most compliant operators to take part.

But those who do – and it is thought that exemplary businesses will be eligible to do so immediately – will benefit in a number of ways, not least the likelihood of all roadside encounters with DVSA examiners drying up entirely, except for in exceptional circumstances related to road safety.

Cream of the crop

To be part of the Earned Recognition scheme, operators will be subject to an extensive third-party auditing process and be required to satisfy a number of criteria. They must also have been operating for at least two years with a good compliance history, and have had no action taken by a Traffic Commissioner (TC) during the same period.

Data required by the DVSA is to include MoT pass rate at the first presentation. OCRS, while not expected to form part of the data to be supplied, will remain part of its enforcement arsenal and the OCRS scheme is unaffected by Earned Recognition.

DVSA will also make ongoing checks of the operator’s compliance. As it will perform these checks itself, online access to the operator’s systems for monitoring such things as tachograph analysis results, maintenance records and telematics data will be necessary.

Where an operator becomes (and remains) part of the Earned Recognition scheme, it will also be rewarded by avoiding site visits by DVSA examiners.

A further benefit for highly-compliant operators is that with them having been taken out of the scope of expensive human enforcement at the depot or the roadside, the DVSA can reallocate that resource to target the non-compliant. Doing so will help promote fair competition.

What is also clear is that the Earned Recognition scheme is not a ‘closed shop’. Just as operators that fail to maintain the required standards can be removed, those who are nearly good enough and continue to work to develop their practices and compliance environment are eligible to join later.

Shifting the target

Earned Recognition is part of a wider ‘modal shift’ in enforcement. The DVSA and TCs are moving towards a scenario that makes non-compliance financially untenable as they bid to utilise their under-pressure resources in the most effective way.

Earlier in 2016, Senior TC Beverley Bell told routeONE that she advocated incentivising compliance, but she also promotes offering help and assistance to operators who are on the cusp of exemplary practice, but not quite there.

DVSA is on the same page as Mrs Bell. As part of its revised approach to compliance, it is to introduce the REO for those operators who are good, but not quite eligible for entry into the Earned Recognition scheme.

Dealing with the REO will also see a move away from roadside checks. Instead, the centralised REO team in Bristol will request documents and then audit them away from the operator’s premises. It seems likely that there will be an informal method of bringing ways to improve to operators’ attention when minor, infrequent infringements are detected.

The third tier of enforcement will be led by the DVSA’s Strategic Management Office. This will use resources freed by Earned Recognition and the REO and target them squarely at the non-compliant, and various sources of intelligence will also be used.

As a result, DVSA hopes that these activities will have a disruptive effect on the businesses of those who are targeted by the Strategic Management Office by increasing the frequency of roadside check and depot visits.

Will it fly?

Earned Recognition is at a more advanced stage in the LGV sector, as some LGV operators in the south-west have taken part in the early pilot of the scheme.

Nevertheless, the DVSA confirms that, in the name of a fair playing field, Earned Recognition will come to coaches and buses, with a latest estimate of early 2017 for its full introduction across the board.

It has the potential to be of major use to those highly compliant operators who are eligible for inclusion, as does the REO, but giving the agency access to drivers’ hours records and compliance data is likely to be a bridge too far for some operators.

However, once the scheme has been explained, acceptance becomes much higher. At a Microlise transport conference in Coventry in April, only 48% of delegates were happy to grant the DVSA access to their records; after an agency representative had explained how the scheme works and its benefits, that figure rose to 84%.

Earned Recognition and the Remote Enforcement Office are coming, but it remains entirely up to operators whether they embrace them.

routeONE comment

In the current environment, where many operators store a lot of their data related to compliance in the cloud, it should be no surprise that the DVSA is pursuing its Earned Recognition scheme.

Combined with Remote Enforcement Offices and the Strategic Management Office, it is set to be a period of change for operators’ dealings with the enforcement agencies, but for those that are eligible, Earned Recognition will be a boon.

There will always be concerns over the security of sensitive data, and that is something that operators will need to deal with if they are to take part. But on the face of it, it looks a worthwhile exercise if annoying, disruptive and alienating roadside checks are to be dispensed with.