Paperwork gone mad at the Ministry of Justice

Despite the government’s rhetoric of cutting bureaucracy, the Ministry of Justice – one of the largest Whitehall departments and responsible for many important administrative systems – is spectacularly failing to set a good example with its own hugely bureaucratic approach to health and safety when people are driving as part of their work according to information I’ve unearthed in a series of freedom of information requests.

The MoJ has two specially produced full colour booklets, a flowchart, an FAQ document, more than six different forms and training sessions for managers in how to make the whole system work all in the name of helping to keep all its staff safe when driving on official business. Such staff are also advised to keep four different pieces of Ministry of Justice paperwork in the vehicle at all times.

Other departments are managing on far less. HM Treasury has two short sections on safe driving and departmental procedure in its staff policy documents. The Cabinet Office goes even further. On being asked to provide copies of their guidance to staff, the Cabinet Office replied: “I can confirm that no such information is provided to staff. Very few Cabinet Office staff drive whilst on official business and those who do are expected to adhere to all Road Traffic regulations etc and The Highway Code.”

Some departments have lengthier paperwork, including formal risk assessment procedures but advise against their use most of the time, such as in the case of the Department for Energy and Climate Change which says, “For the majority of travel within work, a written risk assessment would be disproportionate and general common sense is sufficient”. The Department for Transport, experts on safe driving you might imagine, manages with a two and a half page policy.

However, the Ministry of Justice has a full colour 17 page document, a taste of which is given in the eleven point “Purpose” section at the start that includes, “Implementing management and accident procedures using appropriate forms before any official driving duties are undertaken”.

There is a multiplicity of these MoJ forms, including three different versions of the Driving on Official Duty Declaration Form, a Driving Risk Assessment Form, a Driver/Vehicle Documentation Check Form and a Driver Journey Log (though good news on the log for, “Other documents used to record travel details such as travel and subsistence forms can be used to support the log and minimise administration”).

Ministry of Justice safe driving flowchartSupplementing the document is a 14-step safe driving chart, an 18-question long “Frequently Asked Questions” separate document and a further full colour pamphlet, Supporting you – safe policy driving statement, with a ‘personal’ signature from the department’s Permanent Chief Secretary – indicating how this level of bureaucracy is not the result of one extremely over-keen person somewhere in the system, but that responsibility runs directly to the very top. Drivers are also advised to make use of the MoJ’s separate Guidance on eye care document.

But it does not stop with the paperwork in the Ministry of Justice, because managers are also required to attend training on how to comply with the paperwork whilst drivers can also ask for training on how to follow the MoJ’s driving policy.

Drivers are also recommended to keep four different pieces of MoJ official paperwork in their cars at all times.

The Ministry of Justice is one of the largest departments, with around 95,000 staff and a budget of over £9 billion, and is closely involvement in systems where efficient administration is vital, such as the criminal justice system and the running of elections. Therefore the involvement of the department’s most senior civil servant in this over-the-top bureaucracy is deeply worrying. If one simple task that takes other departments only a few paragraphs has spawned such complexity at the MoJ, what else is being got wrong too?

Regular readers may not be surprised to learn that the Ministry of Justice is the department to whom the Office of the Public Guardian – they of the wonderfully complicated paperwork – answers.

UPDATE: For mainstream media coverage which picked up on this story see here, here and here, whilst for news of these health and safety policies being reviewed see here.

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6 Comments

  • You don’t say whether you asked the MoJ about why they are doing this before you made some big assumptions about waste and bureaucracy. I think you’ll probably find that this has nothing much to do with the MoJ, and everything to do with car leasing schemes and the need to satisfy insurers.

    In my experience, any organisation with lease cars or who employs people who are expected to drive as part of their job has to jump through these hoops nowadays – all the large leasing companies and insurers insist on it.

  • You make very good points Mark, but the real issue is why the last Government decided to make employers responsible for the driving of their employees anyway.
    The other issue is why each department has a different policy – don’t the HR Directors in the different civil service departments talk to each other? Are there different policies and documents on other HR issues across the Civil Service – another area for savings!

  • what I don’t understand is why the rules aren’t standard across all ministries – and why the insurance rules should be so different – if indeed that is what has caused this. Mind you, they probably do have the same “rules”, but it’s the interpretation of them that’s gone awry.
    I cannot imagine why you would need 4 documents in your car – one telephone number should do it.

  • I think you will find it is all to do with their employer’s liability insurance. Have you actually asked the MoJ why they are doing it? Perhaps you should.

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