Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
MR D BIZLEY,
MR P ATKINSON
40. Is there any independent system by which
either you or the other instructors can appeal for some independent
assessment of the use of a centre by the general public and by
(Mr Cameron) No.
(Mr Atkinson) No, we are not aware of any.
41. Would the independent complaints adviser,
who is part of the structure put in place by the Secretary of
State, accept your complaints?
(Mr Cameron) Probably so. We usually try to do it
through the good offices of the Chief Executive.
42. I am looking at this document which does
say that the Agency has appointed an independent complaints adviser
who will deal with complaints where appropriate. Are you saying
that you have not made a complaint to this person?
(Mr Cameron) No, we have not.
43. Why not?
(Mr Cameron) Because we usually try to deal with the
Chief Executive and take the view that that is the best way forward.
44. But you are not getting the answers, are
(Mr Cameron) In some cases no.
45. But this is a Government appointed person,
so would that not be a better Agency to complain to?
(Mr Cameron) Probably so.
46. Why are you so woolly on this? If your business
is being affected, as it is, why are you not shouting from the
rafters? Why do you not employ people to lobby the Government,
to say this Agency is a waste of space? Why sit back and say you
have nowhere to go?
(Mr Cameron) I suppose in some ways it is because
we have to work with this Agency and what we desperately try to
do is have a good and reasonable working relationship with them
and that is not always the best way of pursuing it by going above
their heads. It is a new Chief Executive and we like to give him
the benefit of the doubt and hope that he is going to do things
47. How many meetings a year do you have with
(Mr Cameron) We have one official one but we do see
him and his officials fairly frequently.
48. How many times have you seen him or his
predecessor in the last year?
(Mr Cameron) Three times. We see his officials on
different aspects of their whole operation, as opposed to just
Mr Donohoe: So if I were to sum up the relationship
between you, you would say it was totally unsatisfactory, would
49. Supine. You are very large, you are very
powerful, you are very rich, yet you accept that if somebody decides
to shut down one of the main outlets for your business, you do
not want to say too much about it in case you upset the person
(Mr Atkinson) I do not think I would interpret it
50. No, that is my interpretation. That is why
we are asking the questions. Let us take Oxford for example. When
did it close?
(Mr Atkinson) It closed prior to September last year.
51. What has happened since.
(Mr Atkinson) During the period September to November
test waiting times were excessive in our view and they have started
52. How much business did you lose?
(Mr Atkinson) It is very difficult to assess how much
business we lost because nobody could get a driving test. It was
not just BSM, it was pupils in general could not get a driving
53. I understand that but you are telling us
that for two months nobody in Oxford could get a driving test.
(Mr Atkinson) It was very difficult.
Chairman: Yet you did nothing to complain about
54. Did the people who were paying you to learn
to drive continue to have driving lessons during the period of
(Mr Atkinson) In some cases not.
Mr Donohoe: That is perhaps why you do not have
a great deal of need to make representations about the extended
timescale for driving tests.
55. You are being asked how much profit you
made in that period.
(Mr Atkinson) Is that from that particular one centre
in Oxford or are you talking about the organisation as a whole?
56. We are just interested in this particular
(Mr Atkinson) I could not give you a figure off the
top of my head as to what profit.
57. You would agree that actually you benefit
financially, do you not, because people had to take refresher
courses while they were waiting for the test?
(Mr Atkinson) I am sorry, I do not accept that it
is in our interests at all to have driving tests delayed for an
excessive period. It is not in the pupils interests, it is not
in our interests. We are not in a situation of keeping quiet with
DSA in order to promote profit for the organisation. That is not
in our interests and not in the interests of pupils who are learning
to drive. It is very disadvantageous for everybody concerned.
(Mr Cameron) It actually impinges on road safety.
What usually happens is that rather than carry on having lessons
a pupil will cut down the number of lessons because generally
they have a budget which they work to in order to get the test
and they cut down on lessons which means they are losing out and
they are having to prolong the process of learning, which means
they are probably not as good drivers when they eventually get
on the road.
58. Has it ever occurred to you to write to
your MP about this problem? Everybody else in the world does.
(Mr Atkinson) We have occasionally taken that step
and encouraged instructors to write to MPs as well. Our view is
that we have a working relationship with the Agency, we have access
to the Chief Executive of the Agency and there is a process in
place where we have a formal annual meeting with the Chief Executive
and we raise the issues specifically at those meetings through
his good offices and an open-door policy at an earlier time, if
it is appropriate.
Mrs Gorman: May I give you just a tiny piece
of advice? If you want to poke a big stick at an official, the
best way to do it is to go through your MP, because they do not
have the kind of relationship which you have, meaning you have
to keep them sweet in order that they do not give you trouble.
I would recommend that you do that at a future date.
59. I am sure that is good advice, but I want
to come back to Oxford. Is the situation still the same today?
Is there somewhere open in Oxford dealing with tests?
(Mr Atkinson) There is one test centre open in Oxford
when there were two.
(Mr Cameron) They have imported examiners into Oxford
to get the waiting list back down to something like normality.