Memorandum by BSM (TEA 07)
BSM is engaged in both learner and post test
driver training and operates its business through some 2,150 franchised
driving instuctors working from 106 centres throughout mainland
Some 130,000 new pupils commence lessons with
BSM instructors each year, representing approximately 20 per cent
of annual provisional licence applications.
The business is well represented geographically
with BSM centres and franchised instructors stretching from Inverness
to Truro. The business is proportionately stronger in metropolitan
On average pupils take 26 lessons with BSM instructors
but, given that 48 per cent are partly trained or have previously
failed a test, the total training hours taken by pupils may be
somewhat higher than our own statistics show.
1. BSM welcomes the opportunity to submit
evidence relating to the administration and expenditure of the
Driving Standards Agency (DSA).
2. BSM congratulates the DSA on the new
touch screen theory test, which was introduced in January 2000.
We have found it to be accurate, reliable and user friendly for
our candidates. We are also impressed by the booking service for
the theory test, which is performing strongly. In addition, BSM
has developed a good working relationship with DSA on a number
of issues including Pass Plus.
3. However, our evidence focuses primarily
on service standards, which, in a number of areas are not satisfactory
at present. In this respect, we welcome the DSA's recognition
in its annual report and accounts that improvements must be made
in this area, indeed, we have found that, when we have raised
particular matters with senior officials in DSA, they have been
resolved speedily and to our satisfaction. However, we believe
a number of improvements are still to be made so that day-to-day
operations run smoothly. We outline our points of concern below
and are happy to provide further written evidence, or to appear
before the Sub-committee, if required.
4. Given that this enquiry is related to
the administration and expenditure of the DSA, BSM wishes to express
its concern with regard to the rise in fees that the Driving Standards
Agency has introduced in recent years and the implications that
this has for those learning to drive, especially for those on
lower incomes. Indeed, as table A shows, the costs imposed by
the DSA have increased disproportionately when compared to the
cost of training provided by the private sector and the retail
price index. Given that DSA finances are in considerable surplus,
BSM would strongly recommend that any future price rises are held
at less than the prevailing rate of increase in retail price index
for the next five years. BSM believes that the DSA can gain efficiency
improvements through the better use of technology, which will
ensure that this price constraint does not adversely affect the
financial resources of the Agency (see below).
|Driving test practical19||£19.50
|Retail price index||128.1
5. BSM is also concerned about the wide variation in
pass rates between centres on all tests carried out by the DSA.
We believe that pass rates may vary by up to 30 per cent and that
this may have been brought about by a reduction in supervision
of examiners as staff are moved to non-core activities (see education
programme below). Fluctuating pass rates not only raise questions
with regards to standards but also lead to considerable road safety
implications. We are keen to see the DSA address this issue as
a matter of urgency to ensure that all examiners are adequately
monitored so that they maintain their standards.
6. BSM is extremely concerned about the service levels
at DSA centres around the UK. Although there are some significant
variations, overall the service levels are unsatisfactory. We
highlight our concerns for both learner drivers and instructors
Automated Booking System
7. BSM believes that the DSA's automated booking service,
introduced over the last 12 months or so, has performed particularly
poorly. The process seems unduly lengthy for all customers and
experience has shown that more unusual requests are not easily
accommodated. Indeed, from the delivery of the software, which
was perhaps poorly specified in the first instance, administration
costs to the private sector have increased with no discernable
benefits. In sum, we do not believe that, in its current form,
the system offers good value for money. Moreover, BSM still does
not have any direct access to the booking system, although this
was promised some considerable time ago. Indeed, we were initially
consulted on this project in 1998 and subsequently a presentation
was made to our staff in the summer of 1999. We have been waiting
and have been prepared to participate in a pilot scheme of this
system for over 15 months. Such access would reduce the demand
for DSA resources and would help BSM ensure that the needs of
our customers are met.
Practical Learner Driving Test
8. Waiting times in many of the DSA's test centres far
exceed the DSA's own six weeks target. While the DSA's average
waiting time for 1999-2000 is held at an average of 7.3 weeks,
our own research, conducted in September this year, has found
that, in many centres that handle a high proportion of learner
drivers, waiting times far exceed the average and are excessive
(see table B).
9. Indeed, in some centres, BSM has found that it is
virtually impossible to book a test and once the waiting time
goes beyond a certain time limit, a test cannot be booked, even
as far ahead as three months. This has certainly been the case
at Oxford where one of the test centres was closed down and Nottingham.
No dates could be given for other centres as well. This puts the
DSA's call centres under extra strain as they receive increasing
numbers of calls from both BSM and individual customers who are
seeking to book tests. We believe that test dates are not given
so as not to reveal the extent to which the centres fail to comply
with the targets set by Government.
|DSA test centre||Waiting Time (weeks)
|Oxford||No dates offered
|Elephant and Castle (London)||13
18 BSM prices vary across the UK. The figures provided are an
average and are based on statistics from our training centre in
Bury.19 BSM prices vary across the UK. The figures provided are
an average and are based on statistics from our training centre
10. Such a situation has considerable implications for
the learner driver and BSM when trying to plan a course of lessons,
which on average should take no longer than 12 weeks from start
to finish. Faced with such a waiting time, learner drivers are
forced to have a long time without any lessons and this may impact
on their ability to pass their test. Indeed, in the intervening
time, they may lose some of their confidence and ability in the
car. This situation is compounded if the learner driver does not
have access to a car in which to practise and may mean that the
learner driver has to pay for extra lessons just to maintain their
11. BSM also wishes to highlight the poor service standards
with regard to ADI tests. Typically, instructors have to wait
even longer for their tests than learner drivers, who are seen
as the priority. Further, as lower grade examiners are routinely
used to supplement the normal Supervising Examiner ADIs for vocational
tests, these staff are required to go back to the L-test, when
shortages occur. This then exacerbates the pre-existing problems
with the ADI tests. BSM believes that the DSA should address this
issue of deployment of resource as a matter of urgency.
12. The long waiting times can cause particular problems
when instructors are waiting to take their Part III exams and
are forced to apply for a temporary extension, as they cannot
complete all stages within the time limit set by the DSA. This
creates a considerable administrative burden for both our franchised
instructors and for BSM generally. Further, granting a temporary
extension in many ways is self-defeating since the DSA creates
even more administration, placing a strain on existing resources
for all parties.
13. Moreover, the fact that the learner driver takes
priority over the trainee instructor is not fair practice given
that all trainees depend on passing the various stages of the
ADI test for his or her own livelihood. Indeed, incomes may be
dependent on passing the test.
14. We are also concerned that the DSA is not meeting
its targets on ADI check tests. Anecdotal evidence from our own
instructors indicates that at the moment these checks are seldom
carried out, if at all. Given that part of the ADI fee is supposed
to provide this service, such a state of affairs is unacceptable.
Moreover as the check test is the only way in which poor quality
ADIs are brought to task, there is a clear need from a road safety
point of view for checks to be performed as promised and for poorly
performing instructors to be re-appraised as soon as possible.
Check tests, together with the introduction of mandatory continuing
professional development of instructors will be the most effective
way of improving the quality of instructors on the ADI register.
15. In light of the DSA's failure to deliver against
its targets in its core commitment, "to ensure high and consistent
standards in the assessment of drivers and driving instructors
throughout Great Britain," BSM has some reservations about
the DSA's plans to expand its education programme to involve over
90 examiners in 2000-01.
16. The stated aim of the programme is to reduce accidents
involving young people. However, given that the 50-minute presentation
is to cover eight topics, it is difficult to assess the extent
to which the programme can deliver. Moreover, we would question
the ability of DSA trained examiners to deliver such a programme.
BSM believes road safety education is more effective when delivered
by teachers or by road safety officers who have been specially
trained for this purpose. Indeed, our own schools programme, Ignition,
run in over 1,500 schools throughout the UK, adopts this approach.
Therefore, BSM would recommend that the DSA make its resource
available to teachers and RSOs so that they can deliver the DSA
message within the classroom. This would also ensure that examiners
could devote their time and energies to fulfilling their core