28 April 2022

PCS members in DVLA angered by closure proposal

PCS members working for the DVLA are worried and angered by reports that the government is considering closing the agency in a second ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’.

The report, published in the Sunday Telegraph and picked up by other news outlets at the weekend, quotes Tory government efficiency minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and suggests that government departments have been asked to find savings of between 10% and 20%, including a demand that departments’ ‘’review your public bodies for any that you consider could be provided by organisations other than the state and therefore closed.’’ It is a repeat of former chancellor George Osborne’s so-called “bonfire of the quangos” in 2010. 

The DVLA employs more than 6000 staff, based largely in Swansea, and handles literally millions of customer transactions, many in a paper format, every year. It provides a vitally important service to the UK as a whole, ensuring that road users are properly qualified to use the road network that the country relies on.

Dealing with the backlogs - A failure of management

Comments attributed to Grant Shapps, secretary of state for Transport, seek to blame PCS members’ strike action last year for the poor performance of the DVLA. Julie Lennard, the CEO of DVLA, had also tried to do that in the annual report the year before when there had been any no industrial action in that year.

It should be remembered that PCS members in DVLA took industrial action over very significant health and safety concerns in response to an increase to 600 cases of Covid-19 among the staff there in a very short space of time and, tragically, one fatality due to Covid-19 – to date there have been more than 3,000 cases. It should also be remembered that it was Shapps’ personal intervention that scuppered a deal which could have resolved the health and safety dispute long before. There has not been any industrial action since August 2021, and right throughout the action we asked DVLA management to prioritise work for key worker applications, but this request was ignored. The fact that Shapps now seeks to blame PCS members is disingenuous.

In fact, it was management’s inability to fully implement Covid security measures imposed by the Welsh and UK governments, leading to large-scale unproductivity for a substantial period of time, that is the root cause of the backlog there. Had the employer moved much more quickly to put in place the technology and management systems to allow home working for more staff, the backlog would be far lower than it is and, given the hard work put in by staff over the last few months, the backlogs are now significantly lower.

Chronic low pay and poor management

PCS believes that the closure or privatisation of the DVLA would be a catastrophe for staff, for Swansea and surrounding areas where DVLA is the second largest employer. 

As it stands, the backlog that Shapps is using to justify the proposals has reduced significantly over the past few months and, due to the hard work of staff at DVLA, will continue to fall.

Instead of seeking to privatise DVLA, Shapps should be focussing on the chronic low pay of staff, the agency just this month has been forced to uplift the pay of more tha 500 administrators to ensure compliance with the National Minimum Wage law.  Staff who are now working long hours to help the DVLA out of the backlog.

In addition, he should be tackling the poor management culture and substandard technology at the DVLA, which has contributed to the failure, as Shapps sees it, of the DVLA and that he now proposes to bring the private sector in to fix.

Next steps

PCS senior officials are seeking a meeting with DVLA management to discuss this and will update members soon afterwards.

In addition, PCS is, at a national level, liaising with Welsh Government, local Labour MPs and also the Labour front bench with a view to campaigning against privatisation plans for DVLA and other public services.