VCA in conflict of interest?

The body in charge of examining the practices of the motor industry following the Volkswagen emissions scandal has come under fire after it emerged that almost 70 per cent of its funding comes from the companies it is investigating.

According to its latest annual report, the Vehicle Certification Agency receives 69.91% of its income from car manufacturers, who pay it to certify that their vehicles are meeting emissions and safety standards.

Transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said last month that the VCA, which also receives government funding, would be responsible for re-running tests on a variety of makes of diesel cars and investigating their real-world emissions.

However, the apparent conflict of interest raised by VCA’s funding has prompted lawyers to demand a truly independent investigation into the industry, and will raise fresh concerns over the government’s handling of the issue of air pollution.

Last week it was revealed by the Observer, how the government has been seeking to block EU legislation that would force member states to carry out surprise checks on car emissions. It has also been accused of ignoring a Supreme Court ruling that the government needed to urgently draw up significant plans to tackle the air pollution problem, which has been in breach of EU limits for years and is linked to thousands of premature deaths each year.

The scandal has wiped more than a third off Volkswagen’s share price, forced the resignation of its chief executive and been the source of huge embarrassment for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was accused of being too close to Europe’s biggest car manufacturer.

Volkswagen has revealed that 1.2m vehicles in the UK are involved in the emissions scandal, which means that more than one in 10 diesel cars on the road are affected. It said the diesel vehicles include 508,276 Volkswagen cars, 393,450 Audis, 76,773 Seats, 131,569 Škodas and 79,838 Volkswagen commercial vehicles.

According to research compiled by Adac, Europe’s largest motoring organisation, diesel cars from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroën, Fiat, Volvo and other manufacturers have also been found to emit substantially higher levels of pollution under more realistic driving conditions. There is no suggestion of cheating, but only a quarter of the 79 cars Adac tested matched official results on the existing EU test. The UK’s Institute for Transport Studies also said it found that popular brands including BMW, Ford, Mazda and Mercedes, as well as Volkswagen and Audi, all emitted levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) far higher than the limits required to pass European tests.

A Department for Transport spokesman said, ‘To help provide value for taxpayers, the VCA cover their operating costs by charging manufacturers for the services they provide. This is the case with many regulators, including the ORR. Whilst the VCA charges the industry for its services, its governance framework is set by Government.’