A “catastrophic” backlog in processing driving licences is due to management decisions which “put people at risk”, MPs have heard.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents the workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLA) offices in Swansea, said an agreement on improved working conditions was withdrawn “without any explanation”.

There have been 643 coronavirus cases at the site including one person who died, he told the Transport Select Committee.

Mr Serwotka said: “The DVLA has had the single biggest Covid outbreak of any workplace in the UK.

“It’s operated out of central Cabinet Office guidelines for handling the Covid pandemic.

“It has taken management decisions that we believe put people at risk.”

He explained that the number of people being required to work in an office rather than from home is “what has caused the huge amount of Covid cases”.

No other Government offices have had similar outbreaks of the virus, Mr Serwotka said.

He continued: “None of them require the same amount of people to be in work as the DVLA and all of them have been able to deliver their business, including DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) and HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs), with staff working from home.

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“The reality is, in DVLA we were told ‘the management didn’t trust’ lower-ranked workers to work from home ‘because they couldn’t supervise them’.”

Sarah Evans, DVLA branch chair for PCS, told the committee: “You’ve got multiple people using the same lift.

“You’ve got multiple people using the same facilities such as the kitchens and the toilet.”

Ms Evans said positive cases have a “knock-on effect” as other staff having to self-isolate.

“That to me demonstrates that the virus cannot be contained in the zones or on the banks of desks that it’s started from,” she said.

“It is having an impact on staff right across the floor from just that one positive case.”

There have been concerns from motorists, trainee drivers and lorry drivers about long delays in receiving documents from the DVLA.

PCS members have launched a series of strikes as part of a campaign for more safety measures to be taken, including a reduction in the number of staff expected to work at the site. Further action is planned.

Mr Serwotka said: “The catastrophic state of the backlog at the DVLA in Swansea is primarily now down to the industrial dispute that exists between the workforce and the DVLA management.”

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DVLA chief executive Julie Lennard told the committee that the disruption is affecting paper rather than online applications.

The typical waiting time for paper applications to be processed is “six to 10 weeks” but more complex cases such as those involving medical declarations can take longer.

Roads minister Baroness Vere said the Department for Transport “will continue to try and reduce it where we can” through measures such as considering whether someone who is not a GP but is “equally qualified” can make decisions on medical cases.

Speaking after the hearing, a DVLA spokeswoman said: “The safety of our staff is paramount and since the beginning of the year we have implemented weekly Covid testing for everyone.

“Since the outbreak of the pandemic we have reorganised our eight buildings in line with official advice, and utilised space in a newly-leased building to further assist with social distancing measures.

“We have also installed thermal imaging cameras to carry out temperature checks on people entering the buildings.”