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TX: 18.03.04 – GOVERNMENT TAKES ACTION TO REDUCE BLUE BADGE MISUSE

PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.


BARCLAY
Thousands of blue badges, the parking permits for disabled people, are being stolen and sold on to non-disabled drivers in pubs and garages across the country. When You and Yours first investigated the fraud in April last year we were offered one for £40 by the owner of a north London garage. We also discovered that there's no central list of blue badge holders, so outside of your own local authority area, where your badge is issued, no one knows whether you're entitled to have a permit or not. And currently there are no formal powers to inspect badges in England and Wales, so police, traffic wardens or other council officials can't check whether one is being misused or not. But that's about to change. Transport minister, Tony McNulty, joins us. Mr McNulty what is changing?

MCNULTY
We're changing the enforcement regulations, it was just passed by the House last Tuesday - the report stage of the Bill - and now as you hint, local authorities, wardens and police will have power to inspect at local level to circumvent abuse.

BARCLAY
So what do you hope to achieve by giving these officials these new powers?

MCNULTY
What we hope to achieve in the end is that anyone using a blue badge or the precious asset that is a disabled parking bay are fully entitled and legitimised to do so and the people who abuse them don't.

BARCLAY
Do you think that there will be enough time actually and resources in order to make sure that that is enforced fully?

MCNULTY
Well we think so, not least because by extending it to police and local authority traffic wardens we can simply add it to the tasks they're already charged with and I know there's a keen enthusiasm - certainly from local authority wardens - to have this ability. So it's a serious gap that You and Yours, amongst others, have highlighted in the past.

BARCLAY
And disability campaigners, including the Disabled Drivers Association, have been calling for this change for 12 years, so why has it taken so long?

MCNULTY
Well there was a full review, as you're more than aware, and the Department's own advisory committee came up with issues and recommendations including this last year and we've said we'd legislate in the earliest possible time. Happily we found a slot in the Traffic Management Bill for this specific element in terms of enforcement and I was pleased to move it last Tuesday and get the full consent of the House.

BARCLAY
Well what about a national database? In December 2002 your department's own advisory body - the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee - recommended the establishment of a national database of blue badge holders. The Disabled Drivers Association says this is needed to ensure effective policing of the scheme, without a central database to check badges against it won't be easy to check queries. Ann Frye, the civil servant in charge of the Government's Mobility and Inclusion Unit, promised this on You and Yours in April last year.

FRYE
We're also going to look at setting up a national database, so we do have proper records nationally of how many badges are on issue and to whom, so that when they are being inspected it's easier to check up on - has the badge been stolen that you're seeing in a vehicle.

BARCLAY
Ann Frye. So Mr McNulty why has this not been set up?

MCNULTY
Because all these elements, amongst other recommendations from DPTAC - the advisory committee - need to be seen as all part of improvement in the overall review. We've now got the legislation in terms of enforcement, we are looking at an agreed recommendation about a national database. DPTAC also said the eligibility criteria needs looking at, so that that's national as well and we're trying to move to get the whole thing in place so that although locally administered it is within a national framework far more than it has been already. But the point about database is one that's well made and we are looking at it very, very seriously.

BARCLAY
When can we expect it? Give us a date.

MCNULTY
Well I can't give you a date off the top of my head, not least because we're looking at the feasibility of how to get that thing in place and who will be the most appropriate body to do it. What we don't want to do is reinvent the wheel and set up some new body just to look and maintain the integrity of a national database. But the point's made about a national database, some notion that we can have confidence that the criteria's being utilised nationally rather than just on a local level are points very well made by DPTAC and others and we're trying to take the whole thing forward.

BARCLAY
Tony McNulty thank you for joining us.

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