It is now government policy to review all public bodies every three years to make sure that they’re still fit for purpose.
â€œIf you use the Traffic Commissioner (TC) system, we’d like to hear your views on how effective you find it and how it could be improved,â€ says the Department for Transport (DfT).
In March, since-departed Transport Minister Stephen Hammond announced the start of a review of the TCs. It was a low-key briefing note, which said that triennial reviews â€œare part of the government’s commitment to ensuring that non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) continue to have regular independent challenge, including to their objectives and governance.â€
In the case of the TCs, he said, the review will also â€œcontribute to delivering the government’s responseâ€ published in October 2013 to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into the work of VOSA (now the DVSA).
He added: â€œThis is planned to be an in-depth review of the TCs, involving an independent consultant. I will inform Parliament of the outcome of the review when it is completed.â€
A Coalition promise
You’d be forgiven for not having heard of triennial reviews â€“ they are a product of the 2010 Coalition agreement, which included a commitment to reform the Civil Service.
This was followed in June 2012 by the Civil Service Reform Plan with specific actions including making the government’s digital services simpler, clearer and faster, taking a â€œdigital by defaultâ€ approach by 2015. It’s relevant to you, because of what is now suggested for O-Licencing.
After the ‘bonfire of 285 quangos’ announced by the Coalition, those that survived are now subject to a triennial review to â€œensure that NDPBs are still needed and are complying with principles of good corporate governance.â€ The 450 remaining NDPBs range from the quasi-judicial TCs to the Atomic Energy Authority, Sport England and the Arts Council. Says the Cabinet Office, the triennial reviews have two purposes:
- Challenge the continuing need for individual NDPBs, both their function and their form
- Review the control and governance arrangements.
The Cabinet Office’s guidance says that each review should be open and transparent, with a report at the end of the review providing evidence and rationale for decisions about the body’s future.
TCs fit for purpose
Says the DfT: â€œLet us know what you think. Your views will help us make sure that the TC system is fit for purpose and providing the best possible service.â€
The seven TCs (regulating eight geographical areas) are assisted by deputies, who preside over Public Inquiries (PIs) and consider applications for passenger and goods O-Licences.
The DfT review will â€œlook at what the TCs do and how the organisation is set up.â€
It will also â€œconsider the governance and control arrangements to make sure that they’re operating in accordance with principles of good corporate governance.â€
The review wants to know what you think about:
- The effectiveness of the TCs as regulators
- The importance of the independent status of the TCs
- What roles the TCs carry out that could be better provided by other parts of government
- Your views on any areas that could be improved.
As with the O-Licencing review (below) you can respond to as few or as many of the questions as you want. â€œIf you’d like to make a point that isn’t covered by the questions please feel free to do so,â€ adds the DfT.
Significantly the DfT asks specific questions about â€œpotential changesâ€ it could make:
1.What are the most important positive features of the system of TCs to you (and why)?
2.What do you think about the effectiveness of the licensing work of the TCs?
3.How effective do you think TCs have been on minimising burdens on businesses?
4.What do you think about the level, effectiveness and value of communications you get from the Office of the TC?
5.How do you think the TC system could be improved?
Reducing the burden on business â€“ also part of the government’s ‘red tape’ agenda â€“ is a key aim of the DfT and is not to be underestimated.
â€œWe want your views on how we could improve the regulations to reduce costs to businesses or improve the quality and effectiveness of the licensing service,â€ says the DfT.
It has broken the â€œpossible changesâ€ down into three subjects. The DfT adds that a new operator licensing self-service system is under development, which aims to make it easier for operators to manage their O-Licences online.
To reduce the burdens on operators and improve the service, the DfT is looking at whether it is â€œpractical and desirableâ€ to abolish the paper discs for O-Licences.
â€œIf we abolish paper discs this may mean that a vehicle has to be specified on a licence from when it is first used.â€ If it is decided to abolish paper discs, the timing is likely to be based on a future upgrade to IT systems for O-Licensing, to ensure a smooth transition.
The DfT asks:
1.What do you think the impact that replacing the paper O-Licence disc with an online-only system would be for operators and enforcement of the industry?
2.If we get rid of paper discs, would it be easy for you to add and remove vehicles to and from your notified fleet electronically?
3.Would you prefer to be able to print your own discs or could we rely only on a national database?
4.Are there any other impacts we should be considering?
The police and local authorities may make statutory objections to O-Licence applications. But there are examples of decisions where interested parties have not been able to comment in time for their views to be considered by TCs, says the DfT, so it wants to look at whether:
- The timescales are right
- Statutory duties should be amended
- Other parties such as town and parish councils should also have a statutory role.
Specifically, it asks three questions, two of which exclusively cover goods licencing, but also asks â€œcould local authorities be better placed to deal with changes in the local bus market if they were the body that registers services?â€
Single Traffic Area
O-Licensing is administered in eight Traffic Areas, with a fully devolved system in Northern Ireland. Some larger operators have bases in more than one Traffic Area.
â€œGiven these trading realities, we would like to consider whether operators with bases in more than one Traffic Area could have a single O-Licence for a whole England or Great Britain traffic area.â€
This would be an additional option for businesses based in multiple regions. It’s not intended to replace the current system of TCs who focus on specific geographical areas, and regional offices where operators and drivers can attend PIs.
â€œWe’re keen to hear views and evidence from business of different sizes and types to assist us with any future decisions about possible changes to current rules,â€ says the DfT.
In particular, the DfT asks:
1.Would the option of having a single licence for the whole of GB assist in your fleet management?
2.What advantages and disadvantages would such system have?