Last reviewed 10 January 2012

Paul Clarke takes a look at the recently-published report from the Department for Transport on the impact of the Red Tape Challenge on the road transport industry.

Introduction

According to the newly-retired Head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Red Tape Challenge showed that there was a "voracious appetite" among government departments to adapt, think more creatively, reach out to small and medium-sized firms and to find better ways to fulfil the duties of Government without increasing the cost. "We know we need to deliver better for less," he concluded.

Set up by the Prime Minister to fulfil his promise to cut the bureaucracy that is holding back UK firms, the Challenge was intended to take all regulations and, topic by topic, to ask whether each was really needed and whether it still served its original purpose. In May and June 2011, the spotlight turned to transport, and Ministers offered over 370 regulations for consideration. Some 2000 people responded and the results of the exercise were reported by Transport Secretary Justine Greening just before Christmas. In this article, Paul Clarke looks at the results as they will affect the freight transport industry.

Freight transport

The report from the Department for Transport (DfT) on the impact of the Challenge on road transport devotes 4 of its nearly 60 pages to freight transport and confirms the intention to scrap 6 outdated regulations which have either lapsed or been replaced. Removing the Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) Regulations 1989 from the statute book may "help to reduce the amount of outstanding legislation" but, the legislation being essentially defunct, the change is unlikely to offer much help to overburdened transport operators.

Of only limited help is the decision to look again at the Vehicle Drivers (Certificates of Professional Competence) Regulations 2007 to see how other countries are applying exemptions and to see whether the UK can remove unnecessary burdens on some sectors, such as farmers who drive stock to market. Also of only specialist appeal is the plan, with regard to the Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007, to consult on taking up the final exemption that the European rules allow (for vehicles carrying cash in secure vehicles) and to introduce a limited exemption for drivers who also drive as Territorial Army reservists in their own time.

Similarly, with regard to "Domestic and EU Drivers’ hours", the DfT report promises only to "look for ways to improve and broaden the way we raise awareness of the rules" while developing with the industry ideas for a simplified regime that can be raised with the European Commission in the hope of a longer-term solution.

Tachographs

A number of regulations concerning recording equipment came under review and the DfT will look for ways to simplify their implementation "when the current negotiations on an EU proposal for next generation digital tachographs have finished". Of more practical help, with regard to the Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) (Downloading and Retention of Data) Regulations 2008, the Department will consult on adopting the European timescales for downloading digital data, which would mean a driver having to download every 90 days rather than the current 56-day limit.

Dangerous goods

Noting that controls on the transport of dangerous goods are important and that the main UK regulations have recently been updated to include new European rules and to transfer functions for the transport of radioactive material to the Office of Nuclear Regulation, the DfT confirms little change. It does, however, plan to consolidate a remnant of the Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road Regulations 1996 that concerns vapour emissions with other more relevant health and safety regulations on petroleum products, in order to simplify the system.

International freight

Having looked at the regulations that implement international obligations regarding consignment notes, and which are used to make sure that customs officials can identify the cargo of a lorry, the DfT has decided to look for ways to simplify and consolidate these regulations "when we next revisit wider legislation in this area". It will similarly consider the regulations implementing European rules that prohibit carriers from charging different rates for goods coming from different Member States.

The regulations that support the enforcement of goods vehicle operator licensing when freight companies are working internationally have already been updated as part of new operator licensing EU rules. As regards the International Carriage of Perishable Foodstuffs Regulations 1985, these implement international obligations and will be kept.

Vehicle weight

The 1976 regulations, which explain how maximum weights relate to different categories of vehicle, are to be maintained as it has been decided that they help to ensure vehicle safety without creating the need for an additional regulatory regime.

Changes that may impact on hauliers

Apart from these specific items, a number of more general changes will be of interest to the freight transport community. Again, however, the news in a number of areas is of no change. For example, regulations ensuring that vehicles carrying very large loads have to secure permission before using the Dartford–Thurrock crossing, and which specify dangerous goods that cannot be transported through the Dartford Tunnels, are to be kept.

Similarly, regulations that allow lorries to use the offside lane of the M621 in Manchester will be maintained as they do not cause traffic to slow down, as there is a 40mph limit in force on the road. Regulations implementing the Eurovignette Directive (setting out the rules for charging HGVs if a Member State chooses to have a charging scheme), are also unchanged, as they are seen as protecting UK hauliers driving abroad from being double-charged.

Regulations explaining how vehicles should be weighed on dynamic axle weighing equipment are to be simplified and may be replaced with a non-legislative alternative.

Licensing

Most of the regulations which form the basis of the UK's goods vehicle operator licensing regime will be kept as they have been recently updated during the implementation of new EU rules that apply to the hire or reward sector.

While the own account operator licensing regime will be maintained, however, the DfT has promised to work with the Traffic Commissioners (TCs) to look for ways to simplify application and administrative processes across the board. Rather more vaguely, it is to develop "greater transparency" with the TCs and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) through clearer information about their different roles and relationships.

The regulations that divide Great Britain into regions, each with its own Traffic Commissioner, are to be simplified and consolidated when the Government next looks at primary legislation in this area. It also plans to consult on the possibility of raising the national speed limit, including for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes on single carriage ways.

Finally, the regulation requiring motorists to hold a paper counterpart to their driving licence will be scrapped by 2015. This has raised concerns with the Freight Transport Association (FTA), which warned that many commercial vehicle operators check the validity of drivers they employ from penalty points on the paper copy. "If this is removed then a robust system is needed that will allow potential employers to gauge clearly and instantly a driver’s entitlement to drive," the FTA said.