Car licensing agency plans 1,500 job cuts: Decision to close offices will be music to ears of tax dodgers, say critics

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THE DRIVER and Vehicle Licensing Agency is to close its network of 51 vehicle registration offices by 1997 with the loss of 1,500 jobs.

The cuts are in addition to 700 job losses at its Swansea headquarters announced earlier this week.

Stephen Curtis, chief executive, said that the latest staff reductions were driven by changes in the way cars were registered. Up to 1,000 staff employed in the VRO offices, enforcing the collection of car tax, will no longer be needed.

A DVLA scheme that enables new cars to be registered from dealers' premises through computer links between manufacturers, dealers and the DVLA is expected to be widely implemented by the end of next year. This will cut out the need for an over-the- counter service to the motor trade.

The nationwide network of offices, which register up to 2 million new vehicles a year at a cost of pounds 40m, will gradually be reduced and closed by 1997.

The DVLA, an executive agency of the Department of Transport, said it was neither economical nor efficient to maintain the country-wide network.

A further 500 staff dealing with specialist registrations such as trade plates will go, with their work given to agents or dealt with centrally at Swansea.

The job losses announced earlier this week will take place over the next three years in a pounds 12m overhaul of the management of driver and licensing information.

The Civil and Public Services Association condemned the move and predicted that it would result in a poorer service to the public.

Barry Reamsbottom, general secretary, said: 'This is an act of butchery on the part of a callous, uncaring government.' He said the closures would encourage car tax dodgers. More than pounds 130m remained uncollected last year because of people evading duty.

'Not only will the general public lose a valuable local service, they will pay the price as taxpayers,' he said. 'The news of the closure of VRO offices will be music to the ears of the tens of thousands of car tax dodgers.'

Tony Lloyd, Labour's employment spokesman, also condemned the move as a devastating blow to the DVLA and to employment.

The second-largest civil service union, the National Union of Civil and Public Servants, said the cuts were a prelude to privatisation. John Sheldon, general secretary, said: 'It is clear these cuts have absolutely nothing to do with making the DVLA more efficient or more effective.'