Matters of moment, May 1978

Computer confusion 

The great computer Vehicle and Driving Licence Complex at Swansea what has it cost the tax-payer; £400-million, wasn’t it? has now been with us for a long time, too long many would say, but it is gradually warming up and it has got itself on Television, which in the impressionable 19709 is the ultimate in status recognition. Perhaps it isn’t doing too badly now, in the matter of issuing new-car licence discs and plastic-enshrouded driving permits and, to be fair, we have had good service from Swansea when investigating the historical aspects of road-fund raiding.

Let us hope this part of the Mighty Mind down in South Wales (what becomes of it if Devolution grips?) continues to function satisfactorily with only the occasional lost registration document or licence, because all over Britain the local tax-offices are shutting down. We know of one where four or five civil servants had almost no work for months on end, prior to the final closure, which was frustrating for them and costly in terms of Government salaries. On the other hand, it used to be possible, and nice for those not conversant with form-filling, to call in and tax a tractor, truck or car in the friendly atmosphere of these local offices; now an often long journey is involved, with no postal facilities. And overworked Post Offices up and down the land have not been relieved of the task of issuing motor licences, which should be the responsibility of the Department of Transport, surely?

It is when dealing with the re-registration of the older vehicles that Swansea is floundering in a sea of ineptitude. The buying and selling and enjoyment of any motor vehicle built before about 1950 is a major industry. Perhaps the D of T did not appreciate this when it set up Swansea to call-in the former type of Log-Books and re-register all such vehicles on the new (and nasty) paper sheets? If it had, it might have found it better to have retained the old-type Log-Books for historic vehicles, these thereby being proof that the vehicles to which they applied were permitted certain concessions at DoE inspections, as well as saving the data they contain for posterity.

As it is, Swansea is making a ripe old hash of this re-registration of the older vehicles. That they all become, on the new sheets, “2-Axle-Rigid-Body” devices might not matter very much, except that this is glaring proof that civil servants are a race apart from other beings, and emphasises the inflexibility of their reasoning. But they go further than that, with our cherished vehicles. Did you know that they are re-registering any two-seater, no matter how pedestrian (like the Editorial 1922 8-h.p. Talbot-Darracq) as a sports car and any coupe, including those beloved by doctors long ago, as saloons? Worse, they are making a complete nonsense of engine-sizes. For instance, the aforesaid T-D, of 970 c.c., is down now as of 885 c.c. (it also says “no colour stated”, whereas the former Log Book clearly says “grey, changed to blue”, which must mean that none of these carefully-made alterations, which the Law required, were ever noted by the authorities!)… A reader tells us he has had a 3-litre Bentley put down as of 1,600 c.c. and a 12/50 Alvis as of 1,200 c.c. We also know of a 1931 Sunbeam motorcycle and sidecar, so described on its 1972 Log Book, which after a paper-trip to Swansea has become a “2-Axle-Rigid Body Sports” car!

Now these mis-declarations’may not seem very important at the moment, apart from the fact that it used to be illegal to make false statements on Log-Books, but the time may come when, for legal, sales, insurance, competition or other reasons, such misleading entries, endorsed as they are by the Department of Transport, could have very inconvenient, not to say serious repercussions. Of course, Swansea will put it right, apart from clinging to their “rigid-axle” bit and probably refusing to understand that a fixed-head coupe is neither a “convertible” nor a “saloon”. But this is just another levy on your purse and that of the tax-payer, and it should never have happened in the first place. We understand that a Miss J. Pritchard has the task of sorting it all out, in the Swansea Vehicle Enquiry Unit. We can only trust she does not go down with a nervous breakdown; and as it is not her fault, apart from the fact that she is a civil servant, we suppose that one day we should all buy her a long drink….

We have given considerable space to this unhappy outcome of the Changing of the Log-Books because it underlines other cases of costly computer confusion. There are further Swansea shortcomings well-known to vehicle owners and users, and where are those short-term licences which we were promised we would be able to buy, as soon as the vast multi-million-pound computers installed there were functioning? These would have been invaluable to historic-vehicle owners, who rightly do not want special licensing concessions, but who object to having to pay out for a quarterly licence just to use such a car for a one-day rally. These four-day, or whatever, licences were to be available over Post Office counters. Nothing more has been heard of them, however, although we do have licence discs some of which are marked, for instance, “MAY 1978”, meaning they expire at the end of this month, others “31-5-78”, which means the same thing but which at one time seemed to point to the imminent arrival of short-period licensing, i.e. “28-31-5-78” for example. The latter are still issued in Wales, the former in England, which is another bit of human or computer confusion. Why has that happy suggestion died a bureaucratic death? We would like the Department of Transport to tell us.

It is all this bureaucratically-inspired muddle that costs this nation far too much. There is the question of those refunds, estimated at some 600,000, due to people who postponed taxing their cars prior to the 1977 Budget because of an official announcement that said if this tax were increased, the rise would be retrospective, thereby involving those who waited in a £10 penalty. There is the matter of what does and what does not constitute a Goods Vehicle where cars like the Maxi are involved, which Swansea now has to sort out! The former muddle was apparently the result of some ambiguous wording put out by the DoT; and if our civil servants, with all the time in the World and no pension worries, cannot write a brief sentence in decent English, we are in the mire… Then the Inland Revenue is not above riding over its backlogs of work by issuing estimates of tax owing, with all the advantages on their side, and ensuring that they get the cash by levying a savage 9% interest-rate on such demands, far those who delay payment.

The fact is that we live on an age of greed, of grab-grab. The ridiculously elevated values now placed even on mediocre old cars are proof of this and we hear that it happens also in the bicycling world, whore replica penny-farthings are being sold at a nice profit as the genuine article. And if you think the present Government is being especially kind to motorists by not increasing car-tax under the recent Budget, do not for one moment lose sight of the fact that the next Election is still in sight…!

NB. We understand that those enquiring about car registrations should apply to the Vehicle Enquiry Unit, Department of Transport, DVLC, Longview road, Swansea SA6 7JL

Misleading! The prices asked for almost any old car are now exceedingly high and there must sometimes be temptation on the part of vendors to exaggerate, in order to secure sales. One piece of gross exaggeration, either deliberate but probably inadvertent, concerns a Singer Bantam, valued at £6,500, which was advertised as having lapped Brooklands at 114 m.p.h. at the 1936 Easter Meeting. The records of that meeting show ooly one Singer entered for the outer-circuit races; its fastest lap was officially-recorded as 81.37 m.p.h. and it VMS unplaced. Another Singer started in a Mountain race but retired. Verb sap...

The Brooklanda Society. – On page 461 last month we inadvertently stated that Roy Nockolds had resigned as Vice-President of the Society. In fact, Roy never held this position; what we should have said was that Mr. Nockolds has relinquished his position of Vice-Chairman.

VSCC President. – The new President of the VSCC is James Crocker, who is Chairman of the Historic Vehicles Committee, President of the Lagonda Club, and an enthusiastic Lagonda Rapier driver.

A Segrave Anniversary. – D.S.J. wrote of the reasons for anniversaries, last month. There are, perhaps, too many such occasions being celebrated these days but a reader, Mr. S. A. Muir of London, reminds us that July 2nd this year is the 55th anniversary of Segrave’s victory for Sunbeam in the French GP. He wonders ifs re-union should take place, at Tours, at the Mayfair Hotel where Segrave was feted on his return from breaking the ISR in 1929, or at the RAC Country Club? This is a matter which might interest thc National Motor Museum, where the “Cub” and other Sunbeams live, or the STD Register.

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Bob Roberts, who has opened the new Midlands Motor Museum, is not a Council Member of the Bugatti Owners’ Club, as we stated last month, but is a Member of the Affairs Committee.