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.
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
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
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 driversfor 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.
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.