6. Stakeholder suggestions
6.1 This section sets out suggestions for changes made by stakeholders, as well as other factors taken into account when developing the proposals.
6.2 During engagement with stakeholders while this consultation was being developed, a variety of different figures were put forward for a matrix with different categories of vehicles attracting different charges.
6.3 As an alternative approach, some stakeholders have suggested introducing a menu system of charging. Under this option an overall charge would be built up from different prescribed charges for different elements of an operation, e.g. for each hour worked, for each person employed, for each type of recovery vehicle or other equipment used. The Scottish Government does not favour this option for a number of reasons. Firstly, the statutory power is for the Scottish Ministers to prescribe in regulations the charges to be levied in respect of removal of vehicles; it is not clear that would be achieved by setting out a menu of charges from which someone else chooses the elements to apply in relation to a particular recovery. Secondly, the Scottish Government considers that a menu system would be overly complex and lead to unnecessary and potentially costly arguments over what was or was not necessary in any individual case: there would probably need to be an arbitration or appeals system to resolve disputes. The Scottish Government is also concerned that building up an overall charge from prescribed charges for different elements could generate very high charges.
6.4 We are aware that a menu system operates in private removals outwith the vehicle recovery scheme, and Annex F gives examples of the types of fees that might be included in a menu approach. However, as explained above the Scottish Government is not persuaded at this stage that a menu system would be an appropriate mechanism for charging for these types of recoveries.
6.5 There have been suggestions from some parties that there should be a distinction made within the charges to allow more to be charged where a fatal accident has occurred. A recovery of this nature would typically be a lengthier undertaking, as the police would have to complete an accident investigation process which may include the recovery operator having to assist in recreating the scene as part of that process. The operator would also be required to preserve evidence for possible criminal proceedings and as such, would normally be expected to fully lift the vehicle rather than utilise winches to ensure that the vehicle is preserved as best as possible pending an examination. There are other cost factors, including the need to secure the vehicle and have forensic examination facilities within the operator's place of business.
6.6 Operators highlighted that the level of damage to a vehicle can also impact how much it costs to remove that vehicle. There was general agreement that it was important to clearly define what constituted damage that legitimately affected the cost of removal. We are considering introducing a definition of 'significant damage' into the system of charging. This would provide operators and those being recovered with a basis for fees reaching higher thresholds.
6.7 Some operators have also suggested that they should be able to apply additional costs for travel where they have to go longer distances. This would be particularly relevant in rural areas; where operators are required to travel to another operator's area to assist; or where operators incur extra costs for ferry travel to the various islands within Scotland depending on the coverage in those remote areas. Suggestions are welcome regarding what distance would be regarded as reasonable within the regulations for an operator to travel and also what mileage rate would be deemed appropriate if additional mileage charges were allowed.
6.8 Insurance industry stakeholders have suggested that a system closely aligned with that in England and Wales would be their preferred choice, subject to some amendments to the wording of the matrix categories. Whilst this is a devolved area it must be recognised that, in particular, the haulage industry operate on a UK wide basis and having similar systems in place within each jurisdiction might be a sensible approach. We do, however, have to ensure that whatever system is implemented it meets the needs of road users in Scotland.
Requirements on police contractors
6.9 How much operators' costs have increased since 2005 is uncertain. There are obvious cases for increased costs such as employees' wages. There have also been increases to fuel and equipment costs over the last 13 years. Operators have also referred to the introduction of management schemes, whereby police contract with an agent to manage their recovery operators, rather than deal separately themselves with each operator on each occasion. It is, however, debatable whether this should be taken into account in the setting of charges since it relates more to the contractual arrangements into which the operators choose to enter.
6.10 Police contracts require operators to deal with a range of different vehicles, provide a guaranteed speedy response, and to have specialist equipment, secure storage facilities, and an efficient administration department. Vehicles are often accident-damaged, do not free wheel, are difficult to access, have restrictions due to forensic requirements and must be removed and stored with the highest standards of professionalism. Arguably, therefore, the costs to operators of carrying out statutory removal work under contract to the police are greater than the costs of operators working independently with individual customers and of other agencies, such as motoring clubs which remove vehicles on behalf of their members.
6.11 A proportion of charges for vehicles removed on police instruction goes unpaid. There are different views as to whether any account should be taken of this in the setting of fees. To do so is arguably unfair on insurers and motorists who do pay; on the other hand not to do so can involve undue costs falling on the operators or public purse. It is also the case that unclaimed vehicles can be disposed of and as much of the proceeds retained as cover the charges that should have been paid.