Yesterday was the start of many people’s holidays. But one company director is going to be taking a longer holiday than he expected.
The Executive Chairman of the AA Plc (AA.) Bob Mackenzie has gone. The announcement from the company said he “has been removed by the board….for gross misconduct, with immediate effect”. According to press reports, this arose from a fracas in a bar, although there is also a suggestion that he may be suffering from a mental illness. Some newspapers just suggested it was a “Jeremy Clarkson moment”.
The AA is an interesting organisation which provides breakdown cover and other services for many motorists. Back in 1905, it was formed to warn drivers about speed traps. It later transmogrified into a commercial organisation when the members sold out. Now it is one of the largest operators of driver education programmes such as speed awareness courses under the AA DriveTech brand. That has become a booming industry and more than a million drivers are now attending speed awareness courses each year. This has resulted in the funding not just of commercial organisations such as the AA but more than £40 million per year goes to the police and local authorities. For the first time in English law, it is now allegedly legal to pay the police to drop prosecutions – all you have to do is promise to attend such a course. There is no evidence that it has any benefit in road safety. More information on this dubious practice is present here: http://www.speed-awareness.org (a campaign run by the ABD against it).
So you can see how in the case of the AA it has changed over the years from promoting the interests of motorists, to actually undermining their interests and extracting money from them. The police are also now ignoring well established legal principles that they should not take money to waive prosecution and are perverting the course of justice. But you can see how financial incentives have been driving the evolution of this dubious new industry.
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.
Local Transport Today, the magazine read by local authority traffic engineers, have published an interesting article on the activities of Hertfordshire County Council in their provision of Speed Awareness Courses.
The article notes that there are 24 accredited course operators. That includes three private sector organisations, six police forces and 15 local authorities. All of them can generate very substantial profits above the costs incurred in providing the courses. For example, LTT report that Hertfordshire County Council generated a surplus of £947,000 in 2015/2016 by delivering 1,891 courses attended by 41,641 drivers giving income of £3.7 million (source: Local Transport Today). Hertfordshire are apparently looking to expand their “business activities” in this area according to Chief Executive John Wood. One can see why when it is such a money spinner.
The police and local authorities may well spend some the surplus from running courses on road safety measures (there is no legal obligation to do so) but private sector operators can simply lose the profits in high salaries and directors fees. For example in October 2015 the Sun Newspaper ran an article that suggested the directors of AA Drivetech received £5.5 million in directors fees in 2013.
One disturbing aspect is that although the police do not set speed limits or determine the location of speed cameras, they do advise on those matters. But local authorities do directly control speed limits so they may well have a financial incentive to lower limits and introduce more cameras so as to increase the demand for speed awareness courses and the hence the profits they receive.
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.
Road Safety GB have published an article on our campaign which you can read here: http://www.roadsafetygb.org.uk/news/5199.html . It quotes an NDORS spokesman (who it seems prefers to remain anonymous) who grossly misleads readers about the legality of the current arrangements, plus makes some other false claims. This was the comment I posted in response:
NDORS claim “that the provision of ….educational courses has been deemed lawful”. But all they have done is obtained a QC’s opinion. That does not make it lawful, and we have also taken a QC’s opinion and ours gave a contrary opinion. (Note: QC’s opinions are not law and their views may be swayed by the questions their clients pose and the answers they are looking for. Nobody argues that the police can waive prosecutions where appropriate but turning it into a money making opportunity is another matter altogether).
NDORS also repeat the false allegation that all the police recover is their administration costs which is definitely wrong. They generate a surplus which finances more cameras, more staff to operate them, etc, etc. It’s a money making scheme in essence.
Our manifesto advocates the offer of training course as an alternative to other penalties after conviction, not for the police to tout waivers to collect money. Nowhere do we support that the police should profit from waiving prosecution.
AMPOW Campaign Against Misuse of Police Waivers
The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has launched a campaign against the misuse of speed awareness courses (named AMPOW) because the actions of the police in offering such “Education Courses” as an alternative to prosecution for speeding and other offences are distorting road safety policy. It is leading to the proliferation of speed cameras and threatened prosecutions because the police now have a direct financial incentive to maximise their activities in this area. This is wrong.
In our view there is no statutory support for this activity and it is contrary to law. In addition it is a perversion of justice for the police to waive prosecution on the basis of money being paid to them.
There is also no hard evidence that putting people through a speed-awareness course has any impact on their subsequent accident record, or behaviour in general. So what we now have is an enormous industry dedicated to raising money to pay course operators, the police and other organisations who benefit from these arrangements.
The Government has claimed that the police only recover their “administration” costs but that is not in fact true. They are actually using their proportion of fees paid by course attendees to finance more cameras and more staff to operate them plus to fund other equipment and activities from the surpluses generated. We can provide evidence on this.
We ask the Government to put a stop to these arrangements forthwith simply because Parliament has never approved these activities. If they do not we will consider a legal challenge to prevent these abusive practices from continuing.
You can learn more about this campaign from a new web site set up to support the campaign here: http://www.speed-awareness.org . Members of the public can register their support for the campaign and sign a petition here: http://www.speed-awareness.org/join.html
A document that gives all the evidence on what has been happening and why it is illegal is present here:
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