UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1610-i

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Transport Committee

Work of the DSA

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Rosemary Thew and Mark Magee

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 54

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Transport Committee

on Tuesday 22 November 2011

Members present:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)

Steve Baker

Jim Dobbin

Julie Hilling

Kwasi Kwarteng

Mr John Leech

Iain Stewart

Graham Stringer

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rosemary Thew, Chief Executive, and Mark Magee, Head of Modernising Driver Training, Driving Standards Agency, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good morning and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Could you identify yourselves, please, for our records?

Mark Magee: My name is Mark Magee. I am Head of Modernising Driver Training at the Driving Standards Agency.

Rosemary Thew: I am Rosemary Thew. I am the Chief Executive of the Driving Standards Agency.

Q2 Chair: Thank you very much. Outsourcing the theory test is one of your biggest expenditures. How do you ensure you are getting value for money?

Rosemary Thew: The theory test has always been outsourced. We have never run it in-house. The theory test is a computerised basis of checking people’s awareness of the theory of driving and also hazard perception. We do not have those skills in-house and to that extent it would not be appropriate for us even to think it was.

As to how we ensure we get value for money, there are very regular meetings with our provider-Pearson. We meet with them on a quarterly basis to review their performance. We have monthly returns of performance against each of the key indicators. Very recently the contract was extended and we negotiated a reduction in contract fee.

Q3 Chair: Do you intend to outsource the practical test?

Rosemary Thew: That would not be a matter for my decision at all. It would be a matter for the Secretary of State and for Ministers to conclude. If that was to be their conclusion, I believe it could be done, but it plainly is not a matter for me to say, I am afraid.

Q4 Chair: Is it something that you have recommended?

Rosemary Thew: No, I have not. I have not offered any advice to Ministers at all on this issue.

Q5 Mr Leech: If the practical test were to be outsourced, would there not be a temptation on the part of whoever the outsourced company would be to fail more people, on the basis that they would then have to take the test again and they would get paid again?

Rosemary Thew: One thing that DSA is very proud of, and rightly so I think, is the integrity of the practical test. We do have large numbers of people-2 million-who turn up for the test every year. The integrity of the test is not in question at all. If the practical test was to be outsourced, it would be a matter for very careful contract management with a new provider to ensure that it was not open to any such abuse.

Q6 Mr Leech: Would you accept, though, that it would be more difficult to support the integrity of the test if it were carried out by an outsourced provider?

Rosemary Thew: Not necessarily. I think it would very much change the role of the Driving Standards Agency. We would then become a contract manager organisation. We would need to be satisfied that there were constraints within the contract that would stop any such temptation on behalf of the provider, but not necessarily in terms of the pass rate.

Q7 Mr Leech: Would it be fair to say, though, that it would be easier for the person out there taking the test to be more sceptical about a private company, who would potentially benefit by them having to take the test a second or third time?

Rosemary Thew: That is possible. Again, I say I have offered no recommendations to Ministers on this and it is entirely a matter for Ministers’ decisions. Other organisations might well be able to satisfy Ministers that they did have that level of integrity and that they were able to offer an outsourced test.

Q8 Chair: There was reduced test demand in 2010-11. Why do you think that happened and how much did this affect your income?

Rosemary Thew: It is probably a reflection of a number of factors. There are probably socio-economic factors and possibly also insurance. Insurance, particularly for young men, is a very key thing. Insurance premiums can be extraordinarily high. That could have affected the demand for the test. We also suspect that some people are putting off learning to drive until after university, which could mean that we will have more demand coming in in three or four years’ time.

In so far as how this has affected our service, it has of course reduced our income. We have had, as a result, to make quite considerable cost efficiencies and cost savings, which we have done. Of course it has been reflected in the number of staff that we have because our examiners are essentially staffed up to do seven practical tests a day.

Q9 Chair: You say that you think one reason for the reduction in the number of tests taken was the high cost of insurance, particularly for young male drivers. Do you have any basis for saying that? Have you looked at the trends and the categories of people who have reduced?

Rosemary Thew: Yes. We are doing work with the insurance industry. That work is also being done by my colleagues in DfT. Some of the things that we are considering at the present time are post-test provision. Pass Plus has served us very well over the years, but we are now at a point where we really need to think about what else might take its place. One thing that is in the strategic transport framework is a Pass Plus replacement by 2014.

We are also talking with the insurers about what might make them feel more comfortable about the levels of their premiums. They are also looking at their own use of telematics, black boxes and so on.

Q10 Chair: Can you tell us any more about what you are discussing or thinking about in relation to making drivers safer, particularly young drivers?

Rosemary Thew: Yes. We are doing a lot of work as far as novice drivers are concerned. Mark may wish to say a word in a moment or two, but, if I may, just starting at the very beginning, for the first time now we have a standard published. That standard sets out what is required of a safe and responsible driver on the roads. That is the first time that we have had such a standard published in this country. Coming out of that, we have a syllabus for learning to drive. We are trialling with a number of driving instructors in the Midlands the concept of them training young people against that syllabus, including young people’s attitude to risk as part of that whole programme.

For 14 to 16-year-olds we have a safe road user qualification which is being developed in conjunction with the Scottish Qualifications Authority. We have made quite considerable changes to the theory test over the last year or so. We have introduced case studies. One is introduced now into the car practical test. We are piloting a couple of others in the LGV test and, in particular, looking at the interrelationship between LGV and motorbikes, which I think may be of interest to this Committee. Also, as far as the theory test is concerned, we will no longer be publishing live questions after January next year.

Turning to the practical test, if I may, we have introduced the concept of observer on test. That is asking an ADI or an accompanying driver to ride out with an individual so that they actually see what is going on and can better debrief at the end of the test. We have introduced independent driving. That is inviting people to follow road signs or a diagram of directions without an examiner constantly saying "Turn left" or "Turn right". We have now stopped publishing routes so that people cannot just learn a route by rote.

On post-test, as I have said, a replacement for Pass Plus is currently being worked through, to be introduced by 2014. One of the things that is particularly important to us is modernising the whole driver training industry, where the training industry is absolutely on all-fours with us and is very keen indeed to do this. We are looking at the pre-application stage so that we get the right driving instructors coming through. We are looking at the idea possibly of some sort of qualification for them. We are looking at continuing professional development, perhaps making that mandatory, and much more information for consumers. Mark, I am not sure if you would like to add anything.

Mark Magee: I would just like to add to one thing that Rosemary said when we introduced independent driving. We have also reduced the manoeuvres that were undertaken on test, which enables us to free up the test routes. That means we can assess over high-speed roads and in high-risk areas, such as somebody turning right facing oncoming traffic.

One area Rosemary did not mention is obviously the idea of remedial education, where there was a big commitment in the strategic framework to increase the scope and availability. One area Ministers are particularly keen on is looking at the current New Drivers Act where at the moment someone who picks up six penalty points within two years of getting their licence has it revoked. We want to look possibly at introducing an educational intervention there to help them as opposed to punishing them.

Q11 Chair: Do you think this strategic framework gives you the opportunity to develop these things?

Mark Magee: Yes, it does, but some of the powers are available through the Road Safety Act.

Q12 Chair: Have you seen any evidence that cutbacks in funding for local authorities are affecting their ability to do these things?

Mark Magee: That is probably not something we would necessarily see because we do not tend to work with the local partnerships. Obviously, I go to national meetings where the local partnerships come along. There are mixed messages, I think. Most of them have said that they have managed to keep the money, but they are going to have to have more evidence where they spend it. There was a bit of a mixed picture.

Q13 Steve Baker: I turn to motorcycle testing. Could you tell me what effect the second EU driving licence directive had on the motorcycle test uptake?

Rosemary Thew: On uptake, we saw a very big demand for motorcycle tests just before the new test came in. As far as motorbike sales are concerned, across Europe sales have fallen by about 25%. In this country we have seen a small increase in scooter-type sales but a decrease in the sport-type sales.

Q14 Steve Baker: I understand there was a review because Mike Penning wanted to put the off-road elements back on the road. I understand the Minister wanted to get that done within a year. We are 15 months on. Could you just explain why it is that so much time is passing without progress?

Rosemary Thew: Yes. The review was commissioned, as you say, by the Minister in June 2010. A report was produced in December last year. That report did suggest that we should move to a single-stage on-road test, but in order to ensure the safety of it there was a need for us to commission research. The research needed to go through Government approvals in order to be assured of the financial backing for it, and it actually started in September of this year.

The review is led by my colleagues in the Department for Transport, very closely in conjunction with motorcycle organisations. The DSA is co-operating very fully on that. As far as the research is concerned, we anticipate that the first findings will start to emerge probably just around Christmas time or shortly afterwards. At the moment it is involving test-ready candidates in quiet roads fairly near our college and training centre, but we would then need to look at involving other types of riders in order to ensure the safety of the test. The hope is that we would be able to move to a single-event test on the road by next winter 2012.

Q15 Steve Baker: But you have not been able to do it within the year that the Minister asked you to.

Rosemary Thew: I am afraid it has proved more complex than we had anticipated.

Q16 Steve Baker: If I can take you back a little way, when I did my motorcycle test-which was quite a long time ago now-it was a two-part test. The first part was indeed off-road. I think it was on a playground to do some stuff round cones. Are you still proposing to do that kind of basic skills test off-road?

Rosemary Thew: There are perhaps two elements to your question. What you might be referring to is the basic training for learners. That is something that is provided by motorbike instructors. At the moment the test is in two parts. The first part of it, which is done off-road, looks at the slow manoeuvres and also at the fast manoeuvres. There is a school of thought around whether or not the slow manoeuvres in particular could be done on-road, in which case we would need to look at whether or not they had to be done on some sort of off-road sites.

Q17 Steve Baker: In relation to the research you have conducted, why was it necessary to spend taxpayers’ money? Could you not have worked with the industry-with trainers and perhaps police motorcyclists-to work out what the right test would have been rather than going off to taxpayer-funded research?

Rosemary Thew: The work was done as you suggest. It was done with the industry and it was done with the involvement of police representatives and similar safety organisations. That developed the test that is currently being trialled. But, in order to ensure that it is safe, we do need to do some research. We need to ensure the safety of the candidates, but we also need to look at the safety of our examiners, because part of this would have the examiners involved in the test on the roads at the time of passing traffic.

Q18 Steve Baker: The new motorcycle test was criticised for being unsafe. Have incidents during the test increased since the changes were made in 2009?

Rosemary Thew: It is very interesting because the pass rate for the motorbike test, both module 1 and module 2, is about 70%. That is an improvement since the new test came in. As far as incidents on tests are concerned, they run at 1.7 per 1,000 tests.

Q19 Steve Baker: I have two more very brief questions. To what extent did the measures that you took reflect what the directive required? To what extent did you go beyond the directive?

Rosemary Thew: We did not go beyond the directive except in so far as there was one slow manoeuvre which was not required by the directive which was included. That did not influence whether we needed multi-purpose test centres or the size of our motorcycling manoeuvring areas in any way at all. Other than that we implemented the directive. We have looked across Europe, and very similar implementation has taken place to the way that we implemented it at the time.

Q20 Steve Baker: Finally, what was the impact of this implementation and the directive on your costs?

Rosemary Thew: There was an impact. The capital cost for what we call motorcycle multi-purpose test centres was £71 million in total.

Q21 Iain Stewart: I would like to return to Pass Plus, which you mentioned in an earlier answer. What was the take-up rate for it? Why do you think that is too low a figure and that you now have to revisit it?

Rosemary Thew: The Pass Plus take-up rate did go up to around mid-20%. It has now plateaued at about 15% or 16%. In so far as why it has plateaued, I think it is perhaps the experience of the insurance companies. It is suggested that people who have taken Pass Plus were not more or less likely to make claims.

Q22 Iain Stewart: Is the problem therefore the relationship with insurance companies rather than what is contained within the course itself? Do you need to review that relationship with insurers rather than in another context?

Mark Magee: One of the issues with Pass Plus is that it is self-selective. The people who come through will come through because they choose to do it. Whether or not they have the financial means to do that will also play a part in that. In terms of the content of Pass Plus, evidence shows us that the big draw is the motorway module. There is a proposal that, if you allow learners on motorways with a qualified instructor in a dual-controlled vehicle, again that would not change the amount of people who would want to come through and do post-test training. There are various factors which are part of it. There are insurers and the driver training industry. In terms of engaging with people, the courage to continue to learn and self-reflect has a role to play. It is not quite as straightforward as just insurers.

Q23 Iain Stewart: In your experience should we be looking at having some post-test qualification or restriction? In France they have an A plate for newly qualified drivers, which may have some restrictions on the size of car they can drive, the speed and types of roads. Do you think that would be a helpful innovation here?

Mark Magee: There are probably two separate things there. Post-test qualification is slightly different. There are BTECs in driving which take people through the learning to drive process and into post-test training-that is a qualification. Post-test restrictions are slightly different. Certainly, at the moment the Government take the view that people need to learn how to handle risks as part of the learning process. They need to have that opportunity. We want to make sure that they gain as much experience in the practical different uses of roads as part of the initial training rather than relying on restricting them after.

Rosemary Thew: I would add that any sort of restriction post-test would have to be one that is enforceable. We would also have to be very careful that we were not limiting the mobility of young people, who may well need cars. For example, if there was to be any restriction around night-time driving, they may well need a car to get to a job in a nursing home or similar. We just need to balance that up quite carefully if there were to be any such thinking.

Q24 Iain Stewart: Have you had an opportunity to review what happens in other countries? Even in Northern Ireland there is a P plate. Have you assessed that as a model and said, "Yes, that would be quite good to implement here"?

Rosemary Thew: At the time that our Learning to Drive Consultation was announced, which was probably about three years ago now, that was one of the things upon which we did consult. However, the view is that we want to make sure that people are passing the basic test at a level which makes them safe drivers rather than relying on some sort of post-test qualification in order to ensure that. As Mark has said, there would be things perhaps within the present Pass Plus that we ought to think about introducing into the learning to drive process as it stands. Motorway driving is one of those things.

One thing that we could look at, which is something we would want to work on at the moment, is a sort of workbook or logbook under which a driving instructor who provided tuition could certify that somebody has gained the experience of driving on a motorway, in town or in the dark.

Q25 Iain Stewart: I have one final question. Do you believe there are a maximum number of times that a person should sit their test? We all make mistakes, and I did not pass mine first time, but after, say, half a dozen goes at the test they are not going to achieve that basic level of competence.

Rosemary Thew: I think the straight answer is perhaps no, I do not think we ought to restrict the number of times people take a test. Most people, on average, pass on their second attempt. We do have numbers that pass first time and numbers who go on to take considerable numbers of tests. People learn at different speeds. It could well be that somebody might have presented for the test far too early but becomes a very competent driver through a further series of learning. My conclusion would be no, there should not be a limit.

Q26 Kwasi Kwarteng: I have a follow-up question from one of my colleagues’ earlier questions with regard to what we might call graduated licensing. From your answers, I got the impression that you do not think that is a good idea. Am I right?

Rosemary Thew: Yes, I think that is right. It is something we would need to look at extremely carefully. As I say, my suggestion is to get people at the right level at the time they take their test.

Q27 Kwasi Kwarteng: We have spoken earlier at a visit about your concerns with respect to people showing up and taking the test. Clearly, that is not only dragging down the numbers in the pass rate but it is very expensive in terms of money and time. What ideas do you have to try and get round that? A logbook might work. Are there any other ideas in this area?

Rosemary Thew: I hope the things that I outlined a little earlier about the changes that we have made as far as the driving test is concerned will mean that people are better prepared. If you draw a comparison with the motorbike test, we now see a 70% pass rate in that test. On the driving test, the pass rate at the present time is about 47%. Getting people better prepared at the time that they present will increase that pass rate and, eventually, I would hope it would get to 100%.

Q28 Kwasi Kwarteng: How do you ensure that people are better prepared before they come to be tested?

Rosemary Thew: The big thing that is very exciting at the moment is the work I was talking about around the driver training industry. The training industry is really enthusiastic about this. If we have a training industry which is staffed up with professional driving instructors with qualifications, supported by continuing professional development, I believe that will really set people off on the right course. Do you want to add to that, Mark?

Mark Magee: Not necessarily on that subject. You mentioned the new syllabus earlier so that the learner will know what they need to know and what they will need to be able to cover. It will help to monitor when they are ready to get to test-readiness. At the moment there is a slight concern that a lot of people are being prepared to pass the test rather than to be safe and responsible. That is quite a big difference.

Q29 Chair: Would you like to tell us more about driving instructors? You have mentioned that a number of times. What kinds of changes are you looking at?

Rosemary Thew: We have about 47,000 driving instructors on the register at the present time. It is fair to say, Chair, that our roads are among the safest in the country and they are contributing very much their part to that safeness. We have been working very closely together with the industry over the course of the last few years. The sorts of things we are jointly agreed would be good would be to make sure that anybody applying to be a driving instructor really understands what being a driving instructor is. There is sometimes a temptation to go for that profession and then realise, halfway through the process, that it was not really the job for you. It needs better pre-application information.

With regard to a qualification, perhaps for somebody who had previously been a teacher, for example, there could be a transferrable qualification-something like an NVQ- which would be a professionalism that a driving instructor would be able to bring to the job.

With regard to continual professional development, at the moment it relies on self-declaration by driving instructors. Around only 15% are self-declaring themselves as taking continual professional development at the present time. In any profession or industry this is something that is really important for us.

There also needs to be a lot better information for consumers. At the moment I do not think people who learn to drive know whether Grade 6 for a driving instructor, which is the top and best grade, is the best or whether something lower is better. There needs to be better information so that people can make an informed choice.

Q30 Julie Hilling: If you do not think that a graduated licence is the answer, what do we need to do? There are a very large number of newly qualified drivers who have accidents in their first year of driving. Even worse are the very tragic and severe accidents that young men have as newly qualified drivers. What do we do about that?

Rosemary Thew: It is about making sure that people are learning properly. As I was saying earlier, we now have a standard of what makes a safe and responsible driver. We have a syllabus. We have driving instructors at the moment who are teaching that syllabus based on individual client needs. Part of it is somebody’s attitude to risk. That is the first time we have been into this sort of area. All of this ought to make people better drivers at the time that they present for the test. The Safe Road User qualification, before you even get into a car at the age of 14, is another thing that I hope is going to make people understand their responsibility on the road. Do you have anything to add to that, Mark?

Mark Magee: Not over and above what you have said earlier. It is the combination of all the various measures which are all linked back to that standard. We have also published a separate standard for driving instructors which sets out the skills and knowledge that they will need. That forms the basis for our proposed modernisation of the industry.

Q31 Julie Hilling: Is it about making those elements compulsory? At the moment nobody has to have a single, solitary driving lesson by a professional to pass their test. Is it about making the test harder or is it about saying there are pre-test restrictions that you have to do certain things? I do not know how you solve it.

Rosemary Thew: I do not think making the test harder is the answer. Making the test more meaningful, which is what we are trying to do here, is an answer. In so far as requiring people to learn to drive with a professional driving instructor, some people could learn very effectively with a parent, or similar. It comes down a bit to freedom of choice. I have to say that the DSA’s advice is to learn with a professional driving instructor, to take 40-plus hours of driving tuition with a professional instructor, and to have about 20 hours of private practice.

Q32 Julie Hilling: What do you do about young men dying on the roads and killing other young people?

Rosemary Thew: With respect, there are the points that I was making a little earlier about the changes that we are now making to the test and the driving industry. 97% of people do present through a driving instructor and I hope that is going to feed back both into the pass rate and ultimately the safety of the roads.

Q33 Steve Baker: What consideration have you given to the kind of positive incentives there could be to participate with advanced driver training organisations like the IAM, RoSPA and other driving clubs?

Mark Magee: We do work closely with RoSPA and the IAM; they are on our stakeholder panel. In terms of incentives, again, it would probably have to be through insurance. That is post-test. It is difficult for us to provide any incentives. We cannot do anything in relation to the driving test. It would have to be through working with the insurance industry. Those sorts of organisations were in attendance when we met with the insurance industry back in the summer.

Q34 Steve Baker: The last time I checked what discount I was getting for my IAM membership it was about £2.98 because I remember being disgusted. What else could be done? It does look like either there is no difference to accident rates, claims or whatever, or there needs to be some other incentive; or should we not trouble ourselves? If it only counts to the extent of £2.98, should we not worry about advanced driver training?

Mark Magee: What we would want to do, now that we have published our standards, is to look at the content of those courses and assessments and make sure they align with our standards. Again, we have had discussions with the IAM and RoSPA about doing that. Certainly, we can do more to promote it. The evidence is quite clear at the moment. It is shown with Pass Plus. Most people see the end of the learning process as the driving test, and that is what we have to change. That is the way we are modernising the industry. The ADIs working with people differently from the start will get them into that mentality.

There is some evidence that some people who go on to do some advanced driving may become over-confident. Should you be teaching them the limitations of their skills as opposed to how to deal with something? Otherwise it just raises the confidence in young men. There are lots of factors and issues that need to be considered.

Q35 Steve Baker: What is your current view on motorway training?

Mark Magee: At the moment, as you have said, it is part of Pass Plus. We have been discussing it with the industry, and it was raised with the Minister back in June as to whether or not we should allow learners on motorways. At the moment people tend to learn driving on high-speed roads from dual-carriageways, which are 70 mph. It is something that needs to be looked at with the proposal to raise the motorway speed limit to 80 mph. That may raise the argument for allowing learners on there, because they would not be used to driving at that speed. We would have to consider the practicality for learner motorcyclists as well as to how that would work for them.

Rosemary Thew: The other point to add to that as well is that, of course, there are not motorways in all parts of the country. We would need to be sure that we were offering some parity of test as well.

Q36 Steve Baker: Finally, can I take you back to the questions we explored earlier about the sight test? I understand that the ophthalmologists have been pressing for a test that covers peripheral vision and also colour perception. What is your current thinking about the quality of our sight tests?

Rosemary Thew: To repeat what Mr Tse was saying a little earlier, the advice that we have had professionally is that reading the number plate does test all aspects of the eye that need to be used during the driving process. It is fair to say that, during the course of the most recent statistics, about 1% of crashes were caused by eyesight problems. We do provide the test. It is reading a number plate from a certain distance. If somebody can do that then, as I say, the results are passed back to our DVLA colleagues.

Q37 Steve Baker: Is it your view then that peripheral vision is not a relevant concern?

Rosemary Thew: I am sorry but I am not an optical specialist in this. The advice that I have had is that reading the number plate is adequate to test eyes sufficiently for driving.

Q38 Chair: Looking at the test, because you said you think the answer is to make the test better, have you looked at including manoeuvres that are known to cause accidents, like right-hand turns and overtaking, and doing more of that?

Rosemary Thew: Yes. We have very recently adjusted the number of manoeuvres. We did that at the time that independent driving came in. People now do a series of manoeuvres on the test. They do cover use of roundabouts, right-hand turns, a turn in the road, reverse park and similar. We believe that the retention of the manoeuvres is essential because this is real-life driving. It is the sort of thing you do every time you go into a car-park or similar.

Q39 Graham Stringer: Going back to young male drivers, how many lives do you think would be saved if the age of getting a licence was increased by a year or two?

Rosemary Thew: The statistics show that the safety of drivers is not really determined by age; it is determined by experience. In every case, as somebody passes a test, whether it is at 17, 18 or similar, as they gain experience, their likelihood of crashing reduces very considerably. I do not think that increasing the age is going to make a huge difference.

Q40 Graham Stringer: I take what you say about experience, but a lot of young men die between the ages of 17 and 18, and 18 and 19. If you take a group of 25-year-olds who have passed the test, while experience matters, less of that group as a percentage die in their first year. There must be some saving by increasing the age.

Rosemary Thew : Okay.

Q41 Graham Stringer: That is a question. It is getting back to estimating. I accept your answer that experience is a large factor, but what I am saying is that surely you can disaggregate age from that. I would like to know if you have an estimate.

Mark Magee: We can certainly take that away. I was going to make a slightly different point. It is a balance between getting the age right and not forcing people to feel they have to drive unlicensed or whatever just because you have raised it. I am not saying that is the answer, but, again, that is a factor that we need to look at.

Q42 Chair: I want to pursue Mr Stringer’s point a bit more about age and experience. When this Committee looked at this issue in the previous Parliament, we looked particularly at novice drivers. At that time we did have difficulty getting figures that showed the driving experience of new drivers who were older, who were not young. Do you have figures available that would indicate the accident rate of new drivers who are not necessarily young drivers?

Rosemary Thew: We will certainly give you the figures that we have. That will show the correlation between the age and the experience.

Chair: It would be interesting to see those.

Q43 Julie Hilling: I wanted to explore health issues a little more and whether there should be more done in terms of the driving test and examination. One of the concerns that have been raised with me is to do with sleep apnoea, particularly for heavy goods drivers, with their sedentary lifestyle and so on, because it is even more catastrophic when that happens. Should there be more medical examination as part of the test?

Rosemary Thew: We do rely on people to declare that they are fit. At the time that they take the test there is a declaration on the driving test form that requires them to do that. As far as lorry drivers are concerned, there is regular re-testing after the age of 40 or 45. For older drivers, of course, there is a self-declaration at the age of 70, and beyond that there is doctor input as well. Could there be more done? Again, we would not be medical specialists; that is not what we are. We could, if that was the policy decision, receive advice from a doctor or an optician in advance of somebody taking a test.

Q44 Julie Hilling: If examiners thought that there may be a medical problem related to this person, what would they do?

Rosemary Thew: It is very rare, but, if there was to be such an issue, they would not take the test or would terminate the test as it started to emerge. It is a very rare occurrence.

Q45 Julie Hilling: There is that re-testing, I guess, particularly for heavy goods drivers.

Rosemary Thew: Yes.

Q46 Julie Hilling: I suppose you are saying, yes, there could be more that the re-testing does.

Rosemary Thew: We could. It would be more regulation, of course. Whether that would be what the Government would wish to do, I don’t know. We could maybe have a requirement of some sort of certification at test time.

Q47 Kwasi Kwarteng: I want to ask a question about driving instructors. Do you think the fact that there are as many as 47,000 makes your life much more difficult in terms of trying to regulate them and make sure they have a certain standard?

Rosemary Thew: There are a lot of driving instructors for the number of people learning to drive at any one time. There are about 750,000 people learning to drive. In so far as whether it makes our life more difficult, a proportion of them are members of professional associations and we have very regular dealings with those associations. It is with them that we would talk about things like changes to the driving test and similar. To an extent we have a constituency there that we can relate to. It makes it quite difficult for us to outreach to driving instructors who are not members of those associations. The sorts of things we then do are to rely on our social media, DSA Direct and e-zine, which updates people on what is going on. It is more difficult to get to those people than it is to the ones who have the membership.

Mark Magee: To add to that, the Government’s role is to set the minimum standards. I do not think it is to prevent a number of people becoming ADIs. What we want to ensure is the minimum standards for those who come forward.

Q48 Chair: I want to ask you a question about the staff survey results. In the results of the Civil Service Staff Survey 2010 you are quite a long way below the civil service average, particularly on the "My work" area and "Organisational objectives". Does this give you some concern on why this might be?

Rosemary Thew: We are concerned about this. Last year we came in with a staff engagement of 50%. This year we have improved by 3%; it is 53% for the current survey. However, I am not being complacent and there is still a lot more to do. During the course of last year we took this extraordinarily seriously. There were clear messages to us as an Agency. Every one of my branch heads was charged with drawing up a local plan, talking to their own people and finding out what the concerns were as far as those individuals were concerned, whether it was around "My work" or whether it is around other areas. They were charged with resolving those things that could be resolved at a local level. Things that could not were escalated to me and to my board colleagues.

As a result of that, we have done quite a lot of work across the whole of the Agency. We have published more guidance around vision for the Agency. Our mission and statements of business direction are now on our website. We have consciously engaged with everybody at driving examiner level in particular and we have set aside an hour every month for them to have what we call team time, which is the opportunity for them to discuss their work and the things that were getting in the way at a local level and to escalate those thoughts to us. In return, I have a cascade session every month with all of my managers. That cascades across the organisation so that, at any one time, everyone ought to be getting the same messages across the DSA. I hope that that is reflected in the 3% improvement we have seen this year.

Q49 Chair: What about the high sickness rates? Are those continuing or are they being addressed? Is this part of the same problem?

Rosemary Thew: The sickness is something that does concern me and has concerned me for a long time. Just to put it into some context, though, since 2008-09 we have had a reduction of four or five days’ sickness per person across the organisation. In that time we have terminated 120 people. They have left on retirement, ill-health or similar terminations. There have been a number of dismissals as well. If you take the leavers into account, that reduces the sickness level by a couple of days. At the moment our sickness runs at 11.21 days. If you take those two days off, it runs at about nine days. I am absolutely not being complacent about that and we have a lot of things that are going on.

Every manager has training in sickness. It is one of their personal deliverables against which they are measured every year to ensure that they are doing their job satisfactorily. We do pre-employment checks for our driving examiners. If there are concerns about sickness, then there would be a health inspection. We have referrals to health management immediately if there are concerns, for example, regarding stress or muscular-skeletal illnesses. We refer them to therapy and health screening. There is counselling available. But, on the other hand, we are also trying to promote health and well-being across the whole of the organisation. There are opportunities for people to have health checks across the DSA.

We have also looked at job design. In particular, contact centres always have high sickness levels and high turnover. I am not being complacent in saying that. We have looked at the job design in the contact centre to try to make it more satisfying and better. All of that is going on across the organisation. I hope you will agree that that has seen a big reduction in sickness levels, but I am absolutely not complacent about them.

Q50 Chair: Do you think they will come down?

Rosemary Thew: I hope this year, for the first time, we will meet our sickness target.

Q51 Chair: As to the customer satisfaction target, in 2010-11, 76% said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied". The target was actually 90%. What has happened about that gap?

Rosemary Thew: Perhaps I can add a little context there, if I may. In previous years we have done telephone surveys of our customers. These are candidates-the people who are taking the test, normally. They are telephone surveys. Because of the austerity measures, we changed our method of counting. Under the telephone survey our satisfaction level was coming out at about 95%, which was phenomenally high. Because of the austerity measures, we decided to do this in-house and we now do an online survey to candidates. It is a different type of survey. It asks similar sorts of questions, but because it is online it gets a different sort of response.

Our survey came back with a 77% satisfaction, and we are taking that on board very carefully. One of the things that they are telling us is the way in which examiners make them feel at ease during the course of the driving test. It is a stressful occasion, of course, but that is the sort of thing that we are listening to and feeding back into the training.

It is also worth saying that we have achieved customer service excellence this year. That is an independent survey of our customer satisfaction. While I am not complacent about that figure, work is going on and we do have an accreditation about satisfaction elsewhere.

Q52 Chair: Can you say a bit more about who your customers are in the context of this test? Is it people taking the test?

Rosemary Thew: We have two types of survey. One is called a candidate survey. Usually, they will be people who have taken the driving test. The other is a business customer survey. That is usually the driving instructors and people who deal with us on that sort of basis.

Q53 Chair: In relation to the ones taking the test, do these include the people who have failed as well as those who have passed?

Rosemary Thew: Yes.

Q54 Chair: Is the satisfaction higher on one than the other?

Rosemary Thew: It is interesting, because the candidates who are taking the test are the ones that I was describing as previously having come out at 95% satisfied, even though over half the candidates do not pass their test. For business customers, they are on one level a business customer, but on another, as you know, we are a regulator of driving instructors so they are also the people that we regulate. Our survey last year came out at about 70% or 72% satisfaction on the business customers and 76% on the candidates. On this year’s emerging findings-we have not done the business one yet-the candidate one has slightly increased.

Chair: Thank you very much; that is very interesting. Thank you very much for coming.

Prepared 25th November 2011