Committee of Public Accounts


Publication of the Committee's 18th Report, Session 2009-10

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"It is welcome news that the Agency has in recent years increased by over a quarter the number of dangerous vehicles and drivers it annually removes from the roads. But more can be done to modernize the Agency's working practices and technology, to enable it to tackle more effectively the vehicles, drivers and operators who pose the greatest risk to road safety.

"We are concerned, in particular, that the Department for Transport and the Agency have not done enough to address the risks posed by foreign HGVs. These constitute only 3 per cent of lorries on our roads but cause 10 per cent of the accidents involving lorries. The worst of these accidents are down to the poor mechanical condition of the foreign lorry or driver fatigue brought on by driving for too long without a break.

"The Department and Agency have not done enough to give the Agency access to critical data held by HMRC on vehicles carried onboard vessels which would aid the identification of known high risk lorries and drivers as they enter Britain. It is also quite unacceptable that there are British port authorities which bar Agency inspectors from coming in to inspect high risk vehicles. And there is no mechanism currently in place requiring EU Member States to share information about their own dodgy operators whose lorries may be travelling outside their country of origin.

"We look forward to the Department's forthcoming new HGV compliance strategy which it should share with the National Audit Office as early as possible."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 18th Report of this Session which examined the extent to which the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (the Agency) is effective in targeting high risk vehicles and whether its approach to enforcement is appropriate for today's world.

The Agency has successfully increased by over 25% the number of dangerous vehicles and drivers that it removed from the roads in recent years. This is welcome news to this Committee which has already noted its concerns about safety on our roads this year. While welcoming the Agency's work to target its efforts more at the riskiest operators, we consider that there is scope to do better by bringing the Agency's working practices up to date to reflect current road traffic patterns and the opportunities afforded by technology and working with others.

More needs to be done to address the significant risk to road safety posed by foreign commercial vehicles. They appear to contribute little in the way of revenue and pose a particular challenge in terms of enforcing regulations. The Department for Transport (the Department) and the Agency have increased the number of inspections of foreign vehicles and have put in place stronger sanctions in the form of fines. But they must not lose focus on the need to address a number of important barriers to the effectiveness of their enforcement activities. In particular, we do not consider that the Department and the Agency have done enough to secure access to HM Revenue and Customs' Freight Targeting Database which would allow the Agency to target non-compliant vehicles and drivers as they enter the country and so prevent them from travelling on Britain's roads. Moreover, it is unacceptable that three ports have barred the Agency from carrying out enforcement activities within their premises.

The Agency seeks to target its inspections of British operators on those which present the greatest risks, but it needs to develop its systems further so that they reflect better the known risks to road safety. Likewise the location of staff and checksites needs to reflect more closely current traffic patterns. The Agency is also unable to obtain as much information about high risk British operators as it would like as there is currently no fully effective mechanism for sharing data between Member States in the European Union. The Department's new Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) compliance strategy is under development and provides an opportunity to make better use of data to analyse risk and to target resources more effectively.