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.
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Thanks to Jason Williams for the photograph.