Transport secretary Grant Shapps refused to either confirm or deny that he was responsible for pulling a deal to end the strike over coronavirus safety measures at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
The PCS union accused ministers of directly intervening in the dispute at DVLA in Swansea after an agreement was reached between officials, agency management and Department for Transport perm sec Bernadette Kelly.
Yesterday MPs asked Shapps whether the union was correct in suspecting that the deal had been “scuppered” for “ideological reasons” earlier this month.
Labour MPs Tonia Antoniazzi and Jim McMahon both asked Shapps to confirm whether he or senior members of the ministerial team at the department pulled the deal and if so why.
But Shapps gave responses that made no reference to the deal and instead accused PCS of targeting additional money rather than safer working conditions and of harming vulnerable people who relied on DVLA’s services.
“Four point two million pounds has been invested at the DVLA to make it Covid-safe,” the transport secretary told Antoniazzi.
“An additional building has been rented. Air conditioning has been changed so that the air comes directly in from outside. Perspex screens have been put in place. Zones and bubbles have been created, and there is a very substantive clean regime.
“If this dispute is indeed about making sure that the building is Covid-secure, then that has been achieved. What we need to know is why the demands then switched to demands about pay and demands about holiday, which have nothing to do with being Covid-secure.”
Shapps reiterated some of the same points in response to McMahon’s questions, adding that the backlog of paperwork caused by the industrial action was “having a negative impact on some of the most vulnerable people in society”.
He asked McMahon, who is shadow transport secretary, whether he was prepared to ask people to go back to their work in order to help vulnerable people across the country.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said Shapps’ responses to MPs' questions were telling.
"The cowardice of Grant Shapps knows no bounds as he repeatedly refused to answer MPs' questions about his role in scuppering the deal that would have ended the DVLA strike,” Serwotka said.
"His attempt to shift the blame on to hard working staff at the DVLA for the current impasse is consistent with a minister who lacks the courage to admit what he has done.
“PCS is calling for the original deal that was agreed with senior DVLA management and the most senior civil servant in the Department for Transport but vetoed by Grant Shapps, to be put back on the table so we can end this strike action.”
DVLA is currently warning service users that the PCS strike is directly affecting its day-to-day operations and urging them not to phone up to chase applications for driving licences.
In a statement, a DVLA spokesperson said:
“It’s disappointing to see the Public and Commercial Services Union choosing to continue with industrial action and targeting services that will have the greatest negative impact on the public, affecting some of the more vulnerable people in society, including the printing and mailing of documents such as vaccine letters for the NHS, just as restrictions are starting to ease.
“We have been negotiating in good faith and will continue to do so with the aim of finding a workable solution.
“The safety of our staff is paramount and since the beginning of the year we have implemented weekly Covid testing for everyone. Since the outbreak of the pandemic we have reorganised our eight buildings in line with official advice, and utilised space in a newly-leased building to further assist with social distancing measures. We have also installed thermal imaging cameras to carry out temperature checks on people entering the buildings.
“As these measures have been implemented, we have worked closely with Public Health Wales along with Swansea Environmental Health and the Health and Safety Executive, who have conducted regular site visits and inspections and have repeatedly confirmed a high level of compliance with control measures.
“Millions of people right across the UK are relying on essential DVLA services and PCS’s demands will cause significant and unnecessary disruption to families and businesses, all at a time when they are most needed.”