Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)

WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001

MR GARY AUSTIN AND MS LARAINE MANLEY

  300. If you are talking about being a trading fund, and you have already quoted the fact one of the ways you can change to make money is to worry about your estate, then some of the people who are engaged in these discussions with you may get the unworthy thought you are just trying to save money.
  (Mr Austin) I have to say they may well do. That is an accusation I have heard before. The amount we spend on the estate by comparison to our other assets, like our staff, is actually quite small. There is not that much reason, from my point of view, to do it. It is just a sensible use of resources. If I can amalgamate three centres and have two sensible ones I can have those resourced with a higher number of examiners.

  301. You do talk about providing public services that respond to user needs rather than being arranged for the provider's convenience. I hope you have that in big letters embroidered over the door.
  (Mr Austin) Absolutely.

  302. We are very concerned about the performance of the new automated booking service, the national telephone booking line. It seems to be doing very much better now than it did. You did have a period where it could hardly have done worse.
  (Mr Austin) I would not disagree with that at all.

  303. Are you going to hit your targets?
  (Mr Austin) For this year in terms of the availability of the system, which I think was one of the key problems, since we have undertaken to do as much improvement as we could, which was last summer, since about August there has been steady improvement. There was a bit of blip in September, but it has hit the 99 per cent availability target consistently now for October/November/December.

  304. Are you going to let the others and BSM have access to it?
  (Mr Austin) I have postponed giving them access until I am certain that the system is robust enough to survive that.

  Chairman: You are promising us it is going to be so robust it will work.

Mr Bennett

  305. When is the promise going to be fulfilled?
  (Mr Austin) The system is hitting its target 99 per cent.

  Mr Donohoe: Who set the target?

Chairman

  306. Did the Department set the target?
  (Mr Austin) No, it was part of the contractual discussions. We said to the IT firm, for this system parts of its term of reference are we want it to be available for 99 per cent of the time. That is where that figure comes from, it is in the contract.

Mr Bennett

  307. How soon will driving schools have access to it?
  (Mr Austin) At the moment we are trying to give them access to our theory test system so they can go into that, because that is a much more robust system, so they can get access to that. It is a newer system. We are under trial for that. They should be able to get that in the next financial year, the early part of the next financial year. Once I am convinced that the DTCS system is as robust as it can be, I am happy to explore that.

  308. When?
  (Mr Austin) I would guess we would probably start to do that some time towards the end of this year.

Chairman

  309. Can you tell us about the check test on the approved driving instructors, what role is that going to play in improving road safety?
  (Mr Austin) It is all about trying to make sure that the customers themselves are given a consistently high level of service. At some stage in the future it would also allow them some choice.

  310. Do you carry out enough tests?
  (Mr Austin) I do not think we do. I certainly think our priority over the last 12 months has been about getting the resources into reducing waiting times for the waiting public.

  311. How many do you want to carry out this year?
  (Mr Austin) So far this year we are aiming to have done about 6,000, and we probably should have done about twice that.

  312. Are you expecting to do twice that next year?
  (Mr Austin) I am certainly expecting to do 12,000 next year. One of the reasons for not doing quite as many this year is there have been more resources put into doing an early test to get you in to register. There has been a 30 per cent increase in people applying to become driving instructors. We put our resources into that.

  313. Are you helping the instructors when they get something like the hazard test that they are going to have to deal with?
  (Mr Austin) One of the key things in terms of the perception test, which is very innovative, is the key to it is trying to give people the ability to perceive of hazards the equivalent of somebody who has been driving for about ten years. The research shows we can train people to have an enhanced perception of hazards. The key to it is not only just the test but, more importantly, the training material to allow them to gain that knowledge.

  314. Is that why you are not going to be able to do it before Autumn 2002?
  (Mr Austin) I have to acknowledge the fact that I would love to do it quicker. I have a large number of videos and I have to do a very sizeable amount of work to make sure these things work. If you can imagine, the nature of the test is to see on the computer screen a real life video of driving along the road, for instance going around a bend with a van parked. An experience driver would pick up the fact that somebody was driving towards you on a bicycle. It is not about reaction time, it is not about, "I have seen the cyclist and I can hit the button", it is about when is the right time for you to perceive the hazard.

  315. You do not think you will move this forward before Autumn 2002?
  (Mr Austin) Not if I have to evaluate and prove that it works.

  316. Do you employ lots of casual staff still?
  (Mr Austin) We employ more than I feel comfortable with.

  317. What is the number?
  (Mr Austin) I do not know.

  318. Let us know, will you?
  (Mr Austin) I will.

  319. Does the number exceed the terms?
  (Mr Austin) It does in the call centres because we were worried about the poor customer service we were offering so we shoved people in there and that meant we broke that agreement. The staff side have been pointing it out to me and we are in the process—


 
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