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


APPENDIX 1

DRIVING STANDARDS AGENCY

  With reference to the forthcoming meeting of the Transport Sub-committee I would wish the following items relating to the Driving Standards Agency to be put forward for consideration.

1.  STAFFING—OPERATIONAL GRADES

  The DSA have over the last three or four years run down, by design, the promotion posts within the Agency whilst conducting a staffing review. Senior Driving Examiners (SDE) were at one time in charge of each driving test centre now; there were previously approximately 300 SDE's Despite a recent promotion board there are currently only 200 SDE's and only two thirds of test centres have a resident SDE.

  Supervising Examiners (SE) are split into two separate disciplines which are SE "L" in charge of a group of test centres and SE/ADI's who are in charge of an allotted number of Approved Driving Instructors (ADI's), normally 400 plus. There were, up until a few years ago, some 120 SE posts but this has been reduced to current total of around 85 (as of August 2000).

  Driving Examiners are check tested by both their SDE's and SE "L"s on a regular basis to ensure, as much as is possible, that everyone conducts a test to the same standard.

  Test demand has been high over the last couple of years since the introduction of the new style test, this combined with a reduction in senior grade posts means the "quality control" side has been forced to take second place and has fallen seriously behind plan. Indeed many SE/L's are forced to conduct driving tests themselves due to understaffing.

2.  THE IMPLICATIONS

  Whilst to an outsider the senior operational grade staffing levels being reduced may seem good business practice, particularly as most of these posts are non productive as far as fee earning is concerned. However the implications for the driving test and the quality monitoring of the test is starting to be giving serious cause for concern.

  For some time the test centre pass rates across the country have been published, these often show a variance of up to 20 per cent dependant on area. More importantly under the freedom of information legislation it may shortly be the case that DSA would have to publish each individual examiners pass rates.

  You will see from the memo from the Chief Driving Examiner Robin Cummins (dated 30 July 1999 addressed to the ex-Area Manager in the London and SE Area), that there are serious concerns about the variance in examiners pass rates and fault assessments in that Area.

  The London and SE Area accounts for nearly 30 per cent of all the Agency business. If you read the memo from the Chief Driving Examiner the implications and the scale of the problem becomes only too evident.

3.  DRIVING INSTRUCTORS (ADI'S)

  Because of the drastic reduction in the SE/ADI grade the ADI check test programme is seriously behind DSA's Business Plan. You will see that the planned target for ADI check tests for the year is 12,500, the likely forecast outurn is likely to only be around 6,300.

  The standard of candidate coming for test has remained extremely poor for a number of years. Currently over 50 per cent of all candidates fail their tests, mainly due to poor instruction or presenting themselves for test before they are of a high enough standard. Many candidates subsequently fail on their second and third attempts also.

  If the quality of candidate coming for test was improved then there would not be the long wait for a driving test or the pressure on DSA to provide repeat tests. It would also obviously have favourable implications for road safety with better prepared drivers on the road ie drivers trained to drive rather than simply pass a test.

  There is currently something in the order of 25,000 instructors in the driving instruction industry being administered and check tested by just 34 SE/ADI's.

  Because each SE/ADI is responsible for such a vast number of ADI's (400 on average) the amount of check tests they are ever likely to receive is probably one every four years! Is it no wonder the system is creaking and the standard of driving instruction remains poor?

  The DSA in contrast receives considerable revenue from the ADI licence system and charges some £400 for an ADI licence and this lasts four years. This money should go towards administrating the ADI check test programme but, very much like the road fund licence, it is milked and the revenue used for other purposes within the DSA.

  The DSA also charge prospective trainee ADI's a lot of money to undertake the various stages of their exams in order to qualify. It would appear from the table that Part 2 and Part 3 tests seem likely to hit their forecast targets, is this coincidence or is it a case of ££ before standards?

  When you make a Government Agency a trading fund that is also responsible for road safety perhaps you create a conflict of interest?

  The table also highlights some other very interesting items just one being the Delegated Examiner visit targets. Delegated Examiners are people, other than Agency staff, who have been granted the power to sit in judgement of drivers—for example delegated bus examiners. Thousand of these tests are done every year but again, out of a planned target of 1,124 visits, only 688 look likely to be completed.

  PCS has long argued for the staffing resource to maintain the supervision standards necessary to control the uniformity and quality of the driving test and the adequate supervision of all driving instructors. The PCS has stated to the Chief Executive of DSA Gary Austin that a minimum of 120 Supervising Examiners are required (60 of each discipline).

4.  NEW EXAMINERS

  Because DSA some five or so years ago decided that it would no longer offer permanent posts to driving examiners it decided to recruit contract examiners (staff employed on contract for a fixed period or number of days a year).

  Time has proved that the standard of applicant these contract teams attract is very low. The current drop out rate for prospective examiners on a test (competition) drive is as high as 90 per cent and for new entrants at Cardington (DSA's national training centre) it is nearly a 40 per cent drop out rate during training. It currently costs £6,000 plus per person to train these new entrants, a drop out rate that high is a massive waste of resources.

  PCS has long argued for permanent jobs for examiners thus attracting the right calibre of applicant.

IN CONCLUSION

  The DSA is currently in turmoil with high demand and inadequate staff. Retiring examiners are often immediately re-employed on a daily fee-paid basis in order to keep waiting times to an acceptable level because they cannot recruit enough high quality contract examiners.

  DAS continue to reject proposals from PCS to increase the retirement age for driving examiners to 65 (it was 65 up until 1992). This rejection is causing much bad feeling and resentment within the Agency and could possibly result in some form of industrial action unless a sensible solution is reached before the end of the year.

  I hope the above, whilst only a quick outline of some of the current problems, assists you in the preparation of a submission to the Select Committee.

Graham Waite

Branch Secretary


 
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