DVLA bosses and staff clash over Covid safety and HGV licence delays

Supply chain crisis

DVLA bosses and staff clash over Covid safety and HGV licence delays

DVLA blames strikes for backlog but workers say mismanagement in pandemic led to rise in Covid cases



@stevenmorris20

Fri 1 Oct 2021 14.02 BST

First published on Fri 1 Oct 2021 14.01 BST

When the letter from the UK government dropped through Antony Crowther’s letter box this week, the frustration that had been building for months turned to rage.

Signed by the transport minister Charlotte Vere, the letter told him his “valuable skills and experience” as a HGV driver had never been more needed. Would he please consider getting behind the wheel again?

That is exactly what Crowther wants to do but can’t because his application to get his licence back after a medical emergency is snarled up in a backlog at the DVLA – the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – in Swansea, south Wales.

“I’ve spent so many hours trying to get through to the DVLA and the transport department to sort my licence out,” said Crowther, 61, from Plymouth. “I want to do my bit and help out. Yes, the money comes in useful but it’s not just about that.

I like to feel I’m helping by getting stuff moving around the country.”

As the scale of the crisis at the DVLA emerged this week, a row has broken out over who is to blame. Workers and their union representatives claim mismanagement during the Covid pandemic at the DVLA has led to the problems. The government and the DVLA blame staff who have been on strike over their working conditions.

It could get worse.

Covid cases continue to blight the DVLA, an executive agency of the Department for Transport (DfT), and more industrial action may be on the way this autumn and winter.

DVLA bosses and staff clash over Covid safety and HGV licence delays

Crowther is one of the many twiddling their thumbs when they are desperate to be at work. He suffered a series of cardiac arrests in May but had a pacemaker fitted and five weeks later his doctors said he was fit to drive again.

He set about trying to get his licence back and informed the DVLA. A letter eventually came back saying that the agency’s doctor was considering his case.

And then nothing more.

This week the DfT admitted in response to a parliamentary question that there were 56,144 applications for vocational driving licences – for lorry and bus drivers – awaiting processing. It said of these, about 4,000 were for provisional licences, while the “vast majority” were for renewals. In most cases, drivers could continue to drive while the application was being processed.

The DVLA said provisional licences were being issued in about five days but conceded that “more complex transactions”, for example if medical investigations were needed, may face “longer delays.”

DVLA and government sources suggested the problem was, at least in part, down to strikes by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

The PCS said the government had scuppered a deal it had agreed with DVLA managers, which would have halted the industrial action – so the backlog was down to ministers.

The problems at the DVLA were laid bare at meetings of the transport committee in Westminster in January and July.

Union officials told committee members that when Covid first struck, staff were sent home but did not have the technology to do their jobs – and they were not trusted by their managers to work remotely.

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Then, the union says, workers were ordered back in too quickly to try to clear the backlog, before their offices were Covid-safe.

It resulted in “the single biggest Covid outbreak of any workplace in the UK”, according to the union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka. By that point there had been 643 Covid cases and one death.

Sarah Evans, a union official at the DVLA, told the committee that “massive safety concerns” remained. She claimed too many people were sharing too many facilities, such as lifts, kitchens and toilets.

There have been a series of strikes over conditions during the summer but the PCS says the DVLA is no further forward in prioritising staff safety and no better prepared for waves of the virus over the winter and autumn.

Covid cases continue to rise, with the union claiming there were a further 152 cases in September and that the running total is now at 874.

The DVLA insists conditions are safe and that it is not possible for staff processing vocational licences to work from home as they have to help deal with the 60,000 items of mail it receives every day.

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