The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) chief executive, Julie Lennard, has been grilled by MPs over delays in responding to applications for licences and car registrations. The House of Commons Transport Select Committee called for evidence from Ms Lennard after a question was raised in parliament.
A parliamentary question from July 5 claimed the turnaround time for paper applications for driving licences and other “key documents” was between six and 10 weeks due to on-site social distancing requirements and industrial action. That was an increase on the 6-8-week turnaround Ms Lennard claimed back in January.
Ms Lennard was called to sit virtually alongside Baroness Vere, the minister for roads, during the committee meeting, which questioned the two on why a backlog of applications had built up at the DVLA’s Swansea HQ. The meeting was chaired by Huw Merriman, the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle, while other MPs including Labour chief whip Lilian Greenwood and the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Ben Bradshaw, also sat on the panel.
During proceedings, Ms Lennard confirmed applications were generally taking between six and 10 weeks to process, but she admitted some applications may take longer. In part, she said some of the delays were down to industrial action that has coincided with a surge in demand after coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased.
“There is definitely very high demand,” she said. “With the country opening up again and restrictions easing, we are seeing a real resurgence in volumes [of applications]. We are also seeing higher volumes because last year in the pandemic we introduced policy easements, which automatically extended everyone’s driving licence for 11 months, but now we are seeing double the volumes coming through again. That is where the industrial action is really not helping with that sort of thing, as we are seeing on the driver licensing side.
“Staff are coping incredibly well. I would say that the vast majority of staff are not taking part in industrial action; they are coming in and working incredibly hard. We have 500 people roughly every single weekend, with people doing overtime voluntarily. Staff here pride themselves on providing excellent customer service.”
The industrial action, set in motion by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union over Covid safety and payments for staff who have worked through the coronavirus pandemic, has impacted the DVLA for some time, and more disruption is on the way. Only recently, the PCS union confirmed a further four weeks of strike action would take place in August.
The PCS union has claimed it was on the brink of a deal, but said the proposed agreement was withdrawn by the government. The organisation said ministers had intentionally “scuppered” a deal that would have ended the strike action.
However, Baroness Vere said the union had changed tack on pay and benefits, leading the government to scrap “proposals”.
“I object to a payment of a bonus and extra holiday in order to end a strike that is basically being undertaken by fewer than one in five people who work at DVLA,” she said. “You do not ballot your staff on the basis of Covid safety, and then suddenly not just move the goalposts but change the sport - talk about pay and benefits. It is not right.”