L-tests 'held to ransom' in fight over firm's name

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The Independent Online
The Government's plans to launch a pounds 70m driving test revamp could be stalled by a 24-year-old businessman and his pounds 180 dream.

DriveSafe Services Ltd, the company which secured the multi-million contract to administer the new written tests, is being held to "ransom" by Joel Duncan - because he owns a company with an almost identical name.

Joel Duncan, who describes himself as a "wannabe entrepreneur", is threatening to sue DriveSafe Services after his own company, Drive Safe Ltd, was inundated with calls from driving schools and learner drivers anxious to take their tests.

"These other guys have come along with their government contract and they want to use my name. I have spent all my time dealing with correspondence intended for them. I offered to be reasonable and let them take over my company - I can always find a new name - but all they have offered is pounds 400."

Mr Duncan's firm, based in Richmond, south-west London, was set up to launch an American idea in Britain. It involves large companies with pool cars, vans and lorries posting stickers on the rear of their vehicles with the question: "How's my driving?" and a telephone number. His staff man phones linked to the number and take complaints, which are passed to the companies.

"The idea in the short term is that employees drive more carefully and there are fewer accidents," he said. "In the long term, we hope insurance companies will offer discounts to fleets in the scheme."

Mr Duncan bought Drive Safe Ltd off the shelf from Companies House in London for pounds 180 and he has complained to senior staff there about the duplication of names.

"If DriveSafe doesn't offer to buy the name for a reasonable price, I'll sue, and they'll have to relaunch under another name," he said.

DriveSafe, which is owned jointly by Capita Group Plc and JHP Group Ltd, owned by the Pitman secretarial educational family, has set up 144 centres to administer the 40-minute tests on behalf of the Driving Standards Agency, part of the Department of Transport. They are due to begin on 1 July.

Steve Madden, the company's Implementation Director, told Mr Duncan he should be grateful for free publicity. But three days ago he wrote to Mr Duncan saying: "In recognition of the irritation which this matter is causing both parties, the board has authorised me to make an offer of pounds 400 for Drive Safe Ltd".

Dr Tunde Ogowewo, a specialist in company law at Leicester University, said the law was on the side of Mr Duncan. "He would have good grounds for bringing an action," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Madden contacted Mr Duncan and asked him to name an acceptable figure for the purchase of his company. "The ball is now in his court," he said.