Paper licence abolition plans delayed

The DVLA appears to have postponed its plans to abolish the driving licence paper-counterpart from January after concerns were raised that the new system would introduce unnecessary complexities for business.
According to the Freight Transport Association (FTA), the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed the delay in an informal exchange with the association earlier this week but gave no reason for the postponement, or any fresh target date for abolition.
A spokeswoman for the DVLA told CM it remained “committed to making it as easy as possible for motorists to access government services and get rid of unnecessary paper”, adding: “That is why the paper counterpart will be abolished in 2015.”
She said DVLA recognised businesses like the car hire industry, employers and fleet operators would need to be ready for the change. She also said the agency was developing a new service that would allow trusted third parties to check a driver’s licence information provided they had the permission of the driver to do so.
Trade bodies such as the FTA and vehicle hire body the BVRLA have raised operational concerns about the original proposal. This would have forced anyone seeking to check a driver’s counterpart information to rely on that driver printing it out from an online database, before verifying it themselves by entering a unique code on the printout into a website, along with the driver’s licence number, within 48 hours.
FTA head of policy for driver licensing Ian Gallagher said the proposed system would have created a great deal of unnecessary work for firms seeking to check the licences of hundreds or thousands of drivers three or more times a year, as many do.
“This process is [supposed to be] all about removing burden as part of the Red Tape challenge… and all it’s doing is adding to the burden, rather than taking away,” he said. “There hasn’t been an agreement to change what they are suggesting yet and they haven’t given us any clarity on how long the delay will last,” Gallagher added. “We’re just pleased they have delayed [it] because it comes after months of pressure.”

Roads will be transformed, promises Highways England

Highways England (HE) – which the Highways Agency will be known as from next April (CM 11 December) – has promised to “transform our national roads” over the next decade and suggested it will be “a very different business from the organisation it will succeed”.

The statements are both contained in the organisation’s five-year Strategic Business Plan, published last week, which outlines a number of goals and aspirations in terms of modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorway and major A-road network.

These include the conversion of more than 400 miles of motorways into smart motorways with hard-shoulder running and the transformation of the country’s busiest A-roads into expressways with modernised junctions, emergency refuge areas and advanced technology to help improve traffic flows.

The document also promises a public consultation in 2016 on “a much-needed” further Lower Thames Crossing with construction starting by 2021, subject to planning consent and funding.

Other aspirations include encouraging economic growth by monitoring the average delay on the network per vehicle per mile – although no targets have been included; ensuring at least 85% of all motorway incidents are cleared within an hour; and maximising lane availability so it does not fall below 97% in any one rolling year.

The business plan also suggests HE will recruit at least 600 staff by early 2016, bringing the total to more than 4,100.

A Highways Agency spokesman told CM that the move to ensure 97% lane availability would not result in any changes to the way decisions were made about lane closures during vehicle recoveries – something the recovery community has become increasingly alarmed about this year.

The spokesman also indicated that despite the staff increases there were no plans for any big changes in the next five years in terms of the number of traffic officers deployed on the network.