Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
280. Mrs Dunwoody will stop me if I rabbit on
a bit. We have an ill-defined "do not know" and a long-standing,
"do not know" set ten years ago. Over the course of
the last year you have a supplementary target, that supplementary
target was ten weeks, who set that?
(Mr Austin) That would have been set in discussions
with the advisory board.
281. Presumably you are working to reduce that
supplementary target, not the six weeks.
(Mr Austin) Absolutely. My ambition for the next financial
year is to get the performance below that figure.
282. You probably anticipated my next comment/question.
If you are successful in reducing this, presumably the supplementary
target of ten weeks down to six weeks, if you do, let us say that
happens in the course of the next year or two, perhaps, we will
have reached a situation that set a target ten years ago. Is that
(Mr Austin) I do not know.
283. If you get it down to six weeks, and the
six weeks was set ten years ago, you will have reached a point
where you were ten years ago.
(Mr Austin) If that is when it was set.
284. It certainly pre-dates you, although you
have been here a few years, and Ms Manley has been at the Agency
a bit longer and she does not know. The point I am trying to establish
with you is if you reduce the supplementary target you will have
reached a situation where the Agency was five or ten years ago.
(Mr Austin) The important part in terms of waiting
times, as far as all of the research I have seen and the focus
groups and the comments I have had from both customers and instructors,
is that it is less important in terms of the actual waiting time
itself. The importance is the consistency of that waiting time
because then they can build into the fact
285. If my constituents are consistently waiting
seventeen weeks or twelve weeksthere is some evidence of
thatthen it is okay because at least you know where you
stand. Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Austin) I would not feel comfortable with that.
What they are telling me is the bit they have difficulty with
is having somebody who starts their tuition today, for instance,
where the expectation is the test is nine weeks away and then
suddenly they get halfway through that nine weeks and we say,
"We have improved it, it is now down to five", because
that may mean that actually when they phone up for their test,
expecting to be told it is eight weeks away
Mr Stevenson: That may be a convenient surprise,
they might welcome that on the odd occasion.
286. I can tell you, Mr Austin, the evidence
we took was not that way around. You still have not told us what
the average waiting time is for a driving test.
(Mr Austin) The current average is 5.8 weeks, it is
just under six weeks now.
287. What is the worst?
(Mr Austin) There are four that are still over the
nine weeks, they are all in London and the South East. The worst
one is in Wanstead, which is at 12 weeks.
288. Are you looking for consistency right across
by bringing it right down?
(Mr Austin) I am looking to put more resources specifically
into those areas to target that and to bring them down.
289. Another one of the responsibilities you
have, as I understand it, I might have written to you about it,
is that you give approval to driving schools.
(Mr Austin) To driving schools?
290. Do you not think that there is a likelihood
of conflict of interest in that?
(Mr Austin) I do not think so. If we are talking about
the driving schools themselves, we are talking about the ones
that train instructors.
(Mr Austin) Part of it is that we are at the moment
contributing to a group called ORDIT3,
which is a group that manages those and approves them. We are
just one of the party. It is not run on our behalf, as it were.
There is not a statutory scheme there, it is a voluntary scheme
and we are just one of the many people involved in that.
292. The instructors on occasions are examined
by examiners and are then going on to examine their pupils. I
would have thought, I would have hoped that you would agree, that,
perhaps, that was not a proper procedure. As I understand it,
there is no appeal against it if they fail.
(Mr Austin) This is in terms of the school itself?
(Mr Austin) They can appeal to that group, but we
do the fieldwork on behalf of ORDIT.
294. Can I ask you about contracts?
(Mr Austin) Yes, of course.
295. Why have you stopped employing examiners
on permanent contracts?
(Mr Austin) That was done many years ago, 1995, in
response to a need to get people in very quickly. I think the
Agency at the time had been used to a situation of fluctuating
demand. What it attempted to do was to avoid the fact it may take
on examiners, only, presumably, not to have to use them and then
make them redundant, lay them off if the demand fell away. At
the time it was a reaction to fluctuation and demand.
296. Do staff shortages play any role in the
extended waiting time? Are you going to go back to permanent contracts?
(Mr Austin) We are in the process of finalising with
the PCS to move away from the contract examiner basis. I do not
like the concept at all. I think we are almost at the point of
being able to say we will have permanent examiners. There are
some nice points about the contract examiners, moving them across
into a permanent position, which I actually quite like. They are
a much more diverse work force than, perhaps, our permanent staff
are and should be encouraged.
297. You have taken on board the fact it is
not a very satisfactory system and you are looking for alternatives?
(Mr Austin) Absolutely.
298. I am still a bit concerned about your consultation.
Your consultations do not turn out to be you telling everyone
we are going to close a particular centre and then they can come
and tell you why they think it is not a good idea and you still
(Mr Austin) The process has certainly had that flavour
to it in the past and, not surprisingly, you do not get many people
saying what a great idea.
299. Do you not have a formula that says, "We
must be within so many miles of our population".
(Mr Austin) The approach we are attempting to adopt
now is to say that within this area where there may be three or
four test centres we believe there is over-capacity, based on
these distances, and we would like to have consultation, which
is not to say this one needs to go, but just about how we would
like to take forward that problem.
3 3 Note by witness: ORDIT stands for Official Register
of Driving Instructor Training. Back