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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)



  260. We always know why we kill people.
  (Mr Austin) Absolutely—on a pharmaceutical basis. What we are in the process of doing with our colleagues in the Vehicle Inspectorate is saying, "Come and look at our quality assurance system, whereby I will check your work and you check mine to see if that is rigorous enough in terms of analysis of that". I have now started to chair a group that meets to analyse the figures in terms of pass rates.

  261. Do you look at the difference between centres?
  (Mr Austin) Absolutely.

  262. Do you have any explanation as to why that happens?
  (Mr Austin) Partly it is due to the way that candidates in certain areas are much better prepared than others.

Mr Bennett

  263. Which is a good and a bad area?
  (Mr Austin) A good area would be somewhere like Guildford, a bad area would be somewhere, off the top of my head, like the centre of Liverpool; that would be a very bad location.

  264. Does that have anything to do with poverty?
  (Mr Austin) I believe it is partly access to additional practice. The key to a good performance at a test seems to be good tuition and also lots of hours practising in a car.


  265. Therefore the money is a barrier.
  (Mr Austin) It could be if you have no access to someone who has a vehicle.

  266. You said something very interesting, "better prepared". The things that govern whether people are better prepared are the number of lessons they take, the speed at which the driving test is allocated to them and the amount of support they get if that length of time is such a long time that it is beyond their lessons and they need to go with a qualified person. There is a real worry there, is there not? That is really a very clear indication of where people are charged too much they do not respond in the same way.
  (Mr Austin) It certainly is a case of those who have access to better resources—

  267. Do better.
  (Mr Austin)—and can in theory spend more time.

Mr Stevenson

  268. Who are you accountable to?
  (Mr Austin) To ministers.

  269. To ministers, not the public?
  (Mr Austin) We certainly take very seriously the fact that we are a public service. In terms of directly accountable, it is to ministers.

  270. Not your customers or the public?
  (Mr Austin) In terms of the wider sense I put a great deal of emphasis on the fact that I am accountable to the public.

  271. Specifically what measures does your Agency take to inform the public about your Agency and its activities?
  (Mr Austin) We use, as everyone does now, Internet websites. We have a press office that tries to get involved in the various aspects of publicising what we do, annual reports, items in each test centre, and we try and involve people in all sorts of publications.

  272. Things like local authorities, who have a road safety responsibility; different government agencies who have a responsibility; community groups who are interested in these things, I can go on. You have no sort of strategy towards contacting them?
  (Mr Austin) If anything I think our strategy is that we will talk to anybody anywhere.

  273. That comes to you?
  (Mr Austin) Either they come to us or we go and search them out. I am certainly aware that we are involved with ACPO. I regularly spend weekends going to talk to road safety groups or groups of individuals in these areas.


  274. It is structure, Mr Austin. It is structure. We are not questioning your goodwill. We are saying, what machinery exists for consulting with people, not just the people within the industry but outside?
  (Mr Austin) There is a standard list of people that we would consult. We consult road safety officers in the council via their national group, as it were[1].

Mr Stevenson

  275. I have the picture. Can I ask a detailed question on waiting times? You have a target of six weeks, who set that target, was it internally set or externally set?
  (Ms Manley) I think it was set in discussion with the Department of Transport at the time[2].

  276. You think it was set.
  (Ms Manley) It was well before my time.

  277. When was it set?
  (Mr Austin) It pre-dates me by many years.

  278. Given the questions and comments made by my colleague, Mr Bennett, we appear to have a situation where this target has been set by someone and has been in place for a long time, although the time is not defined. During that time there have been enormous changes, certainly a massive increase in the test fee, amongst other things.

  279. The target has remained the same. Given that situation, do you not think it is about time that it was reviewed to give a better service to the customers?
  (Mr Austin) We have a supplementary target, which is the maximum time, which has been going through a reduction. For instance, in the previous financial year the test should be conducted with a maximum waiting time of no more than ten weeks. For this current financial year it has been reduced to nine.

1   Note by witness: The Driving Standards Agency also consults some 250 road safety officers directly on matters of broad policy, such as changes to the driving test. Back

2   Note by witness: When the Agency was established in 1990, the waiting time target (which had been set for the driver testing organisation within the then Department of Transport) was eight weeks. The target was reduced to six weeks in 1992. We plan to shadow a revised target to deliver all tests between a range of four to eight weeks during 2001-02. Back

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