Memories : Swansea, 1977

Swansea, DVLA staff exiting Car Park, Morriston Site, 1970's

It’s 1977, and Civil Service staff at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre (DVLC) in Swansea are exiting the complex at the end of the working day. The drivers are backed up due to industrial action and picketing at the site’s main entrance and exit. Located in the Morriston area of Swansea, the imposing site is responsible for issuing driving licenses and collecting car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty) for the UK’s 16 million cars.

The site’s centrepiece is a 16-storey building, which holds computerised records of every car and the driver in the UK. The Swansea complex was opened in 1969 after the DVLC was created in 1965 to centralise all records and replace the 39-strong Local Office Network that used to do the job, each acting as a regional hub. Before the DVLC, all registrations were issued locally, and your VED was paid to the local office – you could buy stamps from the Post Office, pay weekly if you wanted, and tax cars for much shorter periods than you can now. That’s progress.

Most of the cars have more than one occupant, which is good – car sharing is still very common the late-1970s – and you can bet that the topic of conversation in many of these cars will be the current state of the UK’s economy, with strikes crippling the country’s manufacturing and administrative industries. British Leyland is once again in the epicentre of the strife with the highly-damaging Toolmakers’ strike seeing 40,000 out on strike, and car production pretty much halted. When the month-long strike ends, it’s cost the company £10m a week in lost sales and, although we don’t know it yet, the damage to British Leyland ends up being terminal. The company ends up no longer a world force in the automotive industry.

So, tell us about the cars

The mix of cars in Swansea is a very sensible one. A 1970 Austin 1100 Mk2 leads the way (as they so often did in the 1970s), followed by a Vauxhall Viva HC, a Volkswagen Beetle and a Triumph Spitfire. Behind that is a Saab 99 (one of the Executive or Higher Executive Officers behind the wheel, no doubt), and a Vauxhall Viva HB. It’s hard to tell what’s next in line, but it looks like among the vehicles behind that, there’s a Bedford HA van, a Wolseley-flavoured BMC 1800 Landcrab, a Ford Escort Mk1, a Datsun 180B, with a Morris Marina parked up behind the post on the left, and a Hillman Avenger entering the scene from the left.

And what about the DVLC building in Swansea? It’s still very much with us, although we have all known it as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) since it was renamed in 1990. Continued centralisation of the Government’s driving data (down to cost cutting) saw all of the DVLA’s Regional Offices closed in 2012, strengthening Swansea’s position at the hub of this service to the detriment of face-to-face service – as for the centralised and online service you get now from the DVLA, you tell us whether you think these closures have been a good decision.

If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line via any of the links below.

Thanks to Jason Williams for the photograph.

Keith Adams

11 Comments

  1. Understand that the building is mostly empty now, principally because the computer processing and storage capacity of one of the employees lap tops today exceeds the capacity of 70s main frame computer by a factor of over a 100.

  2. I hadn’t realised the DLVC was founded as early as 1965.

    The handover from local governments to the DVLC’s Local Vehicle Licencing Offices was in 1974, so I presume there was nearly a decade when the councils continued to act as agents for the DVLC.

    Recently I’ve been scanning & uploading a lot of pictures of car from old books, magazines & brochures to Flickr & checking out the registrations on Cartell and the DLVA’s online database.

    It seems that all vehicles that were on the road from 1982 onwards are listed, but it’s hit and miss if anything earlier is on their databases.

    I guess computerising the records took time, or that only certain aspects of the DVLC’s operations were computerised at first.

  3. “As for centralised and online service you get now from the DVLA, you tell us whether you think these closures have been a good decision.”

    From personal experience, I have had good service over the phone, by email, and by post.

    If the main building is largely empty now, why not use it to house the allegedly ‘homeless’? An on-site benefit office could be opened as well!

    • When you say it’s empty, do you mean empty due to the pandemic? Or empty as not many staff work there anymore? There’s about 3000-4000 people on that site in normal times, including myself 🙂

  4. Never been to Swansea.
    The cars though – my Dad once had an AD016, two Beetles and, as said elsewhere, three Saab 99s. His Mum had a Viva of this vintage too.

  5. Great article. This ugly building can be seen for miles sadly and looks like a giant bunker. It’s a huge grey concrete block that looks like a multi storey car park. Typical post war architecture. It was also the location of the infamous letter bomb sent to the DVLA that exploded in the post room in 2007 injuring several staff. Interestingly as a local I have never been up to this building only seen it from afar. I do believe that DVLA has another more modern business park location now where most staff work.

    • There is another site in Swansea which is mainly the call centre, i’m not sure of the number of staff there but it’s over 1000 i think. The morriston site as pictured above still has 3000-4000 staff working there in the week.
      Since that bomb went off, they redesigned the way they deal with incoming mail, by having it scanned in a remote room connected to the building by a covered passage about 100 yards away.

  6. It’s mentioned a few times in Yes (Prime) Minister as a place civil servants will be assigned to if the really mess things up & aren’t smart enough to sort things out.

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