Grahame Morris MP questioned Julie Lennard, Chief Executive at the DVLA, and Louise White, DVLA HR & Estates Director, at this morning’s Transport Select Committee evidence session.
DVLA bosses were called before the Committee after a coronavirus outbreak was declared at the agency’s contact centre in Swansea.
The DVLA’s offices have seen 500 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began. Following confusion about the timeline of cases, Julie Lennard said that, of 546 cases reported at its Swansea office since March, 535 were between September and December. Committee Chair Huw Merriman MP suggested that to imply that 546 was a cumulative number stretching back from March was misleading.
Mr Morris pressed the Chief Executive on the reasoning behind the increase in the number of staff working on-site:
“How many staff are working on-site at the moment? What is different about the advice from Government compared with the original lockdown in March and April, when only perhaps 200 or 250 staff were working on-site, where there were no incidents of Covid transmission? What has changed in terms of the workload and demands to bring so many more staff back on-site into a workplace where clearly there is considerable evidence of Covid transmission?”
Julie Lennard said that improvements in Covid-secure provisions meant that more people were able to work on-site. She said, “we didn’t start brining people back in until the summer months because we were making the workplace Covid-secure.”
Mr Morris questioned the Chief Executive on what DVLA operations were considered essential work that must continue to be carried out:
“For example, issuing provisional driving licenses – at the moment it isn’t possible to have driving lessons, in fact all non-essential journeys shouldn’t be undertaken at the moment. Why is that work being undertaken and hundreds of staff being brought onto the site to do that in an environment which clearly isn’t Covid-safe?”
In response, the Chief Executive insisted that the DVLA were continuing to work closely with Ministers:
“We have worked very closely with the Department and with Ministers throughout in determining, certainly the Government position, is that essential public services should continue. That is what we have strived to do, and to put enough things in place to make sure that can be done safely.”
The PCS Union has raised serious concerns about the safety of the site.
General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is a scandal that DVLA are not doing more to reduce numbers in the workplace when Covid infections are on the rise.
“Our members are telling us they are scared to enter the workplace for fear of catching Covid 19.
“Minsters must intervene and ensure DVLA are doing their utmost to enable staff to work from home and temporarily cease non-critical services.”