HC Deb 01 March 1978 vol 945 cc435-7
3. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many officials are currently employed in the complaints department of the Swansea vehicle licensing centre; and whether he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. William Rodgers)

Two units—which deal with over 30,000 inquiries a week, only a proportion of which are complaints—have a combined total of 445 staff. Certain other staff also handle complaints as a part of their work.

Mr. Gow

Although it goes very much against the grain for me to say it, will the Secretary of State understand that there is a need to increase the staff in the complaints department? Is it not a fact that this 25-acre site, employing 5,500 staff of his Department, has proved the greatest bureaucratic shambles of all time?

Mr. Rodgers

No, I do not think that it has. There have been problems—I do not deny that—but I think that there has been a marked improvement at the centre over the past six months, and we should be glad about that.

Mr. Anderson

I welcome the concern of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) for extra employment in my constituency, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that the great bulk of inquiries derives from errors in form filling by applicants? Moreover, given the considerable throughput at the centre, is not the amount of justified complaint very small, and may not the constant carping campaign of denigration be harmful to morale at the centre?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that all that my hon. Friend says is correct. Many of the problems were not foreseen when the centre was established. Equally, I think that, initially, mistakes were made. But matters are getting very much better, and the centre deals with an extremely large number of inquiries.

Mr. Penhaligon

Can the Secretary of State give an example of a bigger bureaucratic shambles?

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Since the vehicle licence fee is an inequitable and regressive tax, would it not be better to abolish it, and the centre as well?

Mr. Rodgers

There are strong arguments for abolishing the tax, which I recognise, but I am afraid that we should still have to deal with other problems in keeping track of vehicles for road safety and law enforcement reasons. Therefore, I cannot promise that the centre will not continue to exist.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it is not good enough just to blame the public? Is it not plain that the number of complaints about the Swansea centre must be a cause of genuine concern? In other cases where there have been complaints—for example, about motorway service areas—the Secretary of State has set up an independent inquiry. Will he now agree to set up such an inquiry into the efficiency of the Swansea centre?

Mr. Rodgers

Neither today nor at any other time have I blamed the public in any way. As I have made clear, the performance of the Swansea centre has been improving, and I think that we should be glad about that. If the hon. Gentleman wants to satisfy himself in this respect, I shall be glad to welcome him—or any other hon. Member—to see the centre first-hand.

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