Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
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.
305. When is the promise going to be fulfilled?
(Mr Austin) The system is hitting its target 99 per
Mr Donohoe: Who set the target?
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.
307. How soon will driving schools have access
(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.
(Mr Austin) I would guess we would probably start
to do that some time towards the end of this year.
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
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
(Mr Austin) So far this year we are aiming to have
done about 6,000, and we probably should have done about twice
312. Are you expecting to do twice that next
(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
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
315. You do not think you will move this forward
before Autumn 2002?
(Mr Austin) Not if I have to evaluate and prove that
316. Do you employ lots of casual staff still?
(Mr Austin) We employ more than I feel comfortable
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