Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
260. We always know why we kill people.
(Mr Austin) Absolutelyon 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
(Mr Austin) Partly it is due to the way that candidates
in certain areas are much better prepared than others.
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.
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
(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.
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.
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
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