Profits on Speed Awareness Courses in Gloucestershire

Radio channel Heart published some information on the profits made by Gloucestershire County Council in 2016/2017 in an article which has subsequently been removed from their web site.

Gloucestershire were one of the few councils that ran their own speed awareness courses and reportedly made about £400,000 in profits from doing so that year. But Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl was reported as saying that they should not have made a profit in that way, and specifically said “The law is fairly clear, it’s been clarified. I think it was ambiguous at one point but it’s very clear now, you’re only allowed to recover the cost of the course, everything else must be paid for in some other way through taxation. I know they made money on it and I’m not blaming them for that but it isn’t legal anymore, if it ever was, so that’s just the reality and the courses are now £14 cheaper as a result”. The courses are now run by a private company, so presumably they will be making any profits available instead.

Nigel Riglar, from the Council, denied they did anything illegal. But they are now having to fund the Road Safety Partnership directly.

It is also worth noting that the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Police, Suzette Davenport, has recently retired. She has been very active in the gravy train of speed awareness courses and is a director of UK ROED Ltd (see http://www.speed-awareness.org/profits.html).

So why was the Heart article removed? Was it too embarrassing an admission from Martin Surl? Or simply that his comments were surely not quite correct. Perhaps he was referring to the new Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill that was passing through Parliament before interrupted by the General Election. That might make it legal when it is not at present. But the Bill has yet to be passed.

Roger Lawson

Hertfordshire Leading in Money Generation

One document about the use of Speed Awareness and other Driver Offender Retraining Courses that was recently brought to my attention is a report published by Hertfordshire County Council in October 2016. Hertfordshire Council is different in the way many such courses are organised and run in that they actually run the courses themselves rather than have a third party commercial organisation run them.

In addition the document (see www.tinyurl.com/mfr63e8 ) explains the history of their involvement in the running of such courses dating as far back as 1995 which makes it clear that they one of the first to jump on this bandwagon. The number of drivers attending such courses in Herfordshire has grown from 275 in 1996//97 to 41,641 in 2015/16. In the last year these generated gross income of £3.7 million and net income of £947,000 after expenses. The expenses include the cost of running the courses (venues, staff costs, etc), and £1.63 million to NDORS (£40 per driver, of which £35 gets paid to the referring police force and £5 retained by NDORS).

The net income is spent on “discretionary road safety activity” such as school crossing patrols, road safety education, cycle training and to support the safety camera partnership. Yes Hertfordshire County Council is also a member of the Hertfordshire Safety Camera Partnership along with the police and the Courts.

What is pernicious about all of this? Local Councils set speed limits so you can see that Hertfordshiare might have a financial interest in reducing the limits so as to enable more prospective prosecutions and offers of speed awareness courses. And clearly if money from course fees is recycled to fund the safety camera partnership they are likely to purchase more cameras so as to generate even more revenue and “jobs for the boys”.

This whole arrangement is typical of the financial incentives that have been driving the spread of speed cameras and the massive increase in speeding fines. There is no evidence that it has had any impact on road safety.

And who is the author of the Hertfordshire Council report? One Ian Powell, Road Safety Team Leader. Now it seems he is also Chairman of the National Association of Driver Intervention Providers (NADIP). That is apparently a trade body formed to promote the interests of course providers – see: https://ndors.org.uk/courses/how-become-course-provider/. You can see that this “industry” has now reached such a size that it needs a body to protect its interests!

But at least the Hertfordshire report does say that “The Alliance of British Drives along with others is questioning of the effectiveness of courses and the use of surplus revenue generated from fees”. Pity about the grammar errors but otherwise they certainly got that right.

Roger Lawson

Paying For More Speed Cameras in Yorkshire

The Northern Echo recently ran a story about how 15,000 motorists were caught speeding in the A1(M) road works over the last couple of years. North Yorkshire Police issued 12,094 fixed penalty tickets in 2015 and 2016 for speeding between Leeming Bar and Barton alone the article said. There are likely to be many more in the current financial year after completion of the road works was delayed by another six months.

The article also reported that 6,492 people were offered and accepted a speed awareness course at a cost of £85 each which means they paid £551,820.

The article quoted Brian Gregory, an ABD Director, extensively. It included: “The work on this scheme has been going on for months and it seems like another example of opportunistic fund raising. There are extremely wide lanes on both sides most of the way which have no road works on them at all. Words fail me. I am flabbergasted at the mendacity of these organisations who use road safety as a cover to generate revenue”. Brian also called for a independent regulatory body to look at speed camera operations.

A North Yorkshire Police spokeswoman is quoted in the article as saying after the usual platitudes about road safety and speeding that “The money generated from the courses is used to fund more safety camera vans and equipment and enables us to tackle the issue of speeding and other offences head on”.

So here we have further evidence that reinforces our claim that the police are using speed awareness courses to not just cover their administration costs but to fund both more speed cameras and other equipment. They have recently doubled the number of mobile speed camera vans to 12 in North Yorkshire. See more background on this in our web page giving the evidence on how speed awareness courses are being used to finance more camera operations here: http://www.speed-awareness.org/evidence.html

This is surely not about road safety but about financial empire building by the police. More cameras and more staff to operate them, and this process will continue until the Government puts a stop to this illegal funding arrangement.

Roger Lawson

Hayes Response and Course Evaluation

I have received a response from John Hayes, M.P., who is the Minister directly responsible for the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill which is currently going through Parliament. This is a response to my letter to Chris Grayling on police waivers and “education courses” but Mr Hayes letter says nothing new and is simply dismissive of our concerns. It fails to respond to some of the key issues that we raised.

However, as a General Election is being called, this will halt the progress of all business in Parliament although the aforementioned Bill is likely to be revived in the new Parliament. Or it might get rushed through the Lords without debate which would be most unfortunate.

Mr Hayes says in his letter that, as we already knew, research is currently underway which will report before the end of the year, on the impact of education courses. This is what he said to the Public Bill Committee on that topic:

“The Department, in conjunction with the Road Safety Trust, has commissioned an evaluation of national speed awareness courses. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is only one of several courses offered, but it covers about 85% of those that offend. The evaluation methodology will be suitable for the future evaluation of other schemes. Because the hon. Gentleman will ask me, I will tell him in advance that the research is examining course impact, including reoffending and reconviction rates and collisions. That will therefore provide analysis of the data requested in new subsection (6A) of the amendment. In fact, the amendment suggests a one-off basis, but I want to do this on a continuing basis. I expect the final report to be presented to the project board no later than the end of this year. 

The project board overseeing the work includes representatives from the Department for Transport, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Road Safety Trust, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the RAC Foundation. The project team has worked hard to ensure that appropriate and rigorous data processing arrangements are in place to enable data transfer between the police, the DVLA and Ipsos MORI, which is the organisation we have commissioned to do the work with those organisations.” 

Comments: Apart from the fact that the Government is not waiting for the results of this research before pushing ahead with enabling legislation, you will note that one of the joint sponsors is the Road Safety Trust. That is one of the organisations that are the main financial beneficiaries of the money raised from drivers for attending the courses and is a major source of their finance. In addition the police in the form of the NPCC are involved when the police are also a major beneficiary of the funds from courses. Will the report really end up being negative about this whole matter even if the results do not support the use of speed awareness courses?

If you have not already written to your Member of Parliament, please do so now. You should write via post or email opposing this Bill and ask for amendments to be made to it. A suggested template letter you can use is present here (a pdf document):

http://www.speed-awareness.org/Letter-to-MP-2.pdf

(Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond).

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

Also please write similarly to any Member of the House of Lords that you know.

Roger Lawson

More Evidence on Revenues and How Applied

The supporters of this campaign continue to provide evidence on the money received by the police from speed awareness courses, and how it is spent. Here are another two examples:

  1. Nottinghamshire Police received £1.3 million in 2015 based on the £35 referral fees via NDORS from the fees paid by course attendees. They issued 83,853 NIPs in that year with 39,610 courses attended. They declined to provide information on where that money is spent.
  2. South Yorkshire Safety Camera Partnership had an overall income budget of £1,460,266 in 2013/2014 of which £830,788 came from the “Driver Diversion Course Fees” (Source; South Yorkshire Safety Cameras Operational Plan 2013/14 to 2014/15). The rest came from Local Authorities. The budgets are similar for 2014/2015 although the Local Authority contribution was forecast to fall. When looking at the Expenditure in 2013/2014, which matched the expected income, there is £855,646 on staff costs and £353,000 on Equipment Maintenance Costs.

But when you look at page 36 of that document which gives a detailed organisation structure diagram it is clear that there are 10 staff directly involved in “Enforcement” including Camera Technicians. In other words, a very large proportion of the costs are involved in operating and maintaining speed cameras so it is very clear that the claim that the revenue from speed awareness courses is solely used on administration is nonsense.

In addition South Yorkshire do not appear to even split out administration of speed awareness course invites from other activities, but as they have more staff on “enforcement” than on “administration”, and the latter includes other work than administration of speed awareness course invites, plus the “equipment maintenance costs” are clearly not administration costs, it is very obvious that speed awareness course kickbacks via NDORS are funding the installation, maintenance and operation of speed cameras.

Roger Lawson

Millions of Pounds in Speed Camera Fines in the East Riding Alone

Safer Roads Humber, a “safety camera partnership” which covers the East Riding of Yorkshire, recently published their annual report for 2015. It shows just how lucrative the operation of speed cameras and the diversion of drivers to speed awareness courses by the waiver of prosecutions really is.

There were 30,024 drivers detected as speeding last year in the region. Some 22,460 were offered a speed awareness course (cost £95, instead of them paying a £100 fine and collecting three points). The courses generated £2.1m which went to Safer Roads Humber.

In addition, 12,609 drivers accepted a fixed penalty notice generating £1.2m which went to the Treasury (HM Government). Another 3,126 cases went to court but the fines imposed there were not recorded (information reported by the Hull Daily Mail).

This shows just how lucrative the operation of speed cameras can be in a relatively small part of the country (population only about 350,000 with Hull the only largish city). The money generated will no doubt be used to finance the operation of the existing cameras and probably buy more. These statistics show exactly what happens when police activities are driven by money and not much else.

Roger Lawson

Telegraph Coverage of Speed Awareness Courses

On the 3rd September the Daily Telegraph ran a lengthy article on speed awareness courses which included some quotes from this writer. Here’s a brief summary of the contents.

It noted that 1.6 million motorists were caught speeding last year and record numbers were attending speed awareness courses (1.2 million last year). These numbers have partly risen because the “qualifying speeds” within which you may be offered a course have been broadened (for example as much as 42 mph in a 30 limit area, or 86 mph in a 70 limit).

But there is little evidence that the courses do much good. The article quoted Chris Miller, former Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable, as saying “There’s too little independent oversight, too little research to show whether these highly lucrative courses, all at the expense of motorists, do any good”.

I was quoted as follows: “If you were a burglar and police let you off if you paid some money it would be a criminal offence. What’s the difference with SACs?” And: “We believe they are also used to fund police activities other than simple SAC administration contradicting what Ministers promised when the courses began”.

A really odd response was obtained from Rob Gifford, CEO of the Road Safety Trust and UKROED (who run the scheme), who was asked whether they should be independently run by the Government. He said “…police would be extremely concerned because it would give the Government the power to tell police officers what to do and historically they have never done that”. Since when were police not accountable to the Government, and to Parliament? Do they now consider themselves above the law?

The article also reported that the Government has commissioned IPSOS MORI to carry out to carry out a review of the SAC industry. As AMPOW has said, there is no firm evidence of any benefit to road safety. The only evidence that is available is based on “attitudinal surveys” done on attendees. They reported on positive responses to the courses and “greater intentions to comply with speed limits”. But of course the problem with these kind of surveys is that the respondents are likely to give the answers they think those asking the questions would like and it is easy to distort the results by the way questions are phrased.

What we surely need is to track people who attend such courses and compare their accident records with a control group who have not attended a course. And compare them also with a group who were given penalty points which the article suggested is known to be effective.

But using IPSOS MORI to do such research is very odd as they are primarily a market research company focussed mainly on public opinion polls. Indeed I would say they are the Governments favourite pollster when they wish to get the answer they want. So it looks exceedingly likely that this will be a whitewash of the evidence on this subject.

Perhaps the best comment on this topic was in a subsequent letter to the Telegraph by Andrew Tobin who said “Sir – If speed awareness courses are effective, my insurance premium should go down if I take one, as I become a lower risk. But it goes up”.

Yes insurance companies might well be able to provide useful evidence on the question of the effectiveness of speed awareness courses, but even if the ends might be beneficial (which I very much doubt), the means are illegal and unjustified.

Roger Lawson