Part-privatisation of vehicle agency scrapped

Exclusive: Decision to scrap search for a commercial partner to help run the Vehicle Certification Agency came at a late stage

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The Independent Online

Plans to part-privatise the agency that tests and approves vehicles for use on Britain’s roads, including new types of cars, buses, motorcycles and fire engines, have been shelved by the Government.

The decision to scrap the search for a commercial partner to help run the Vehicle Certification Agency, which collects £16.1m in revenue, came at a late stage: there were four shortlisted bidders, including the British Standards Institute and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which had been locked in talks with the Coalition since the summer.

Richard Burden, Labour’s shadow Roads Minister, told The Independent that the Department for Transport had created “yet another contract shambles”. In recent years the DfT has overseen the West Coast Main Line fiasco, when ministers were forced to scrap a decision to hand First Group the £5bn rail franchise, and a botched selection over which company should manage driving tests.

The shortlist, which also included the certification specialist SGS UK and the Motor Industry Research Association, was finalised in July, and the competition was expected to conclude early next year. Rumours that the Government had failed to agree suitable terms with bidders have been confirmed by Claire Perry, the Transport Minister.

She admitted that “the competition has not been successful in identifying a suitable joint venture that would achieve the objectives of both partners”. The Government thought that introducing commercial nous would help strengthen the finances of an agency that made a £511,000 loss in 2013-14.

Mr Burden, who, along with trade union leaders, has questioned whether the agency needed outside help, said: “It’s yet another contract shambles at the Department for Transport. The VCA has a strong reputation both within the UK automotive sector and abroad, and has the highest staff satisfaction levels of any motoring agency.

“But Tory ministers have been more bothered about selling off another one of our assets than improving services for motorists. After the West Coast fiasco and theory test shambles last year, how can the public have any confidence that the DfT can handle contracts and competitions?”

But, in a hint that the idea could be revived, Ms Perry said: “The department will consult with a wide range of stakeholders before considering alternative proposals.”