Please find below a summary of that update and advice on managing issues you may be encountering with the delivery of practical test services in your area.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
Due to an unprecedented demand for tests (forecast to be around £1.9 million car practical tests by the end of 2016, set against a previous ten-year average of 1.6 million tests) a rise in retirements by existing Examiners and challenges in expediting the recruitment, training and deployment of new Examiners, pressure on practical car test slots has increased across the UK in the last year.
This has led to a shortage of slots areas across the country and waiting times for new bookings exceeding 20 weeks at some test centres. It should be noted that the issue is not uniform across the UK (despite reports to the contrary) with many centres being able to offer slots within the 6 week waiting times. However, many of these slots are at centres where both the candidate or instructors may have to travel to make use of these slots so may not be a suitable alternative for all. DVSA have also been under pressure from ministers to reduce the LGV waiting lists across the country, therefore taking some examiners from car duties and contributing to the overall waiting time.
A series of measures have been taken by DVSA to tackle the waiting times and improve the Examiner recruitment and deployment process, which include:
- The agency is seeking to recruit 300 new Examiners over 2016/17 to meet the increased demand for tests
- Over 50 new Examiners have been recruited since April and there are currently 126 are going through pre-employment checks or in training, with a target total of 300 in place by the end of the year.
- Examiners have also been offered guaranteed additional hours for testing.
- Demand was beginning to be met in other test areas, with waiting times for vocational tests down to 2.9 weekly average.
- Recruitment campaigns have been redeveloped and ramped up to deliver a wider pool of appropriate candidates
- The selection and screening process for Examiners has been developed to ensure more suitable candidates are successfully and quickly progressed through the process
- Training processes have been reviewed and expedited to ensure candidates receive the appropriate level and quality of training but are more quickly able to be deployed into the field, part of this process will mean trainee examiners being trained at their local test Centre, accompanying existing examiners on some L tests.
- The agency is consulting with employees and other key stakeholders as to how feasible it would be to open up more slots at key test centres over weekends and bank holidays
- The agency is keen to emphasise that at any one time, whilst one centre may have had severe shortages of test slots, other centres in the region can offer test availability in a shorter timescale – in fact up to 2000 slots, within target waiting times, were available across the UK over the last 6 weeks.
- Therefore, the agency is seeking to better publicise where those slots are and encourage both pupils and trainers to consider alternative centres when booking test slots.
The agency (and Department for Transport) are also considering, as part of a wider young driver strategy, how we encourage pupils to be better prepared for test and to only submit for the test when sufficiently prepared for independent driving – increasing the safety of new drivers, decreasing their road risk and also decreasing pressure on test services by negating a headlong rush for the test centre from the moment they receive their provisional licence.
There is no quick fix single solution to what is a problem exacerbated by a combination of factors (outlined above). Whilst NASP has taken every opportunity to feedback our member’s concerns on this issue to DVSA, we do need to acknowledge the very real issues and challenges that the agency faces in this context, and be realistic about the solutions and how quickly they will have an impact.
Whilst DVSA are making every effort to recruit, train and deploy new Examiners to the areas where they are needed the most, longer than average waiting times at some centres will continue to occur in the short term.
There are some practical measures that DVSA would advise customers to consider to help manage these issues in the interim:
- Consider using an alternative test centre – it may admittedly mean a longer drive, and a deviation from your normal travel to test area, but offering pupils a slot sooner at a different centre is at least offering pupils choice and the opportunity to progress your test ready pupils through to licensure in an expedient manner– rather than having them delay and potentially lapse in their test-readiness in the interim waiting for a slot later in the year at their default test centre.
- Ensuring pupils are test ready – we know the majority of professional instructors would never present a pupil for test until they are confident that they are ready for the challenges for independent driving. However, we are aware that some instructors either feel pressured by parent or pupil, or their own commercial imperatives, to take pupils to test (and re-test) perhaps before that pupil is truly ready. Not only does this place pressure and risk onto the pupil, it also plays a large part in demand and pressure on test services.
Be aware that newly qualified and trainee Examiners will necessarily need some development ‘on the job’ and may be involved in shadowing existing Examiners on tests. This may mean that your pupil may be asked if a new or trainee Examiner can sit in on their test. Whilst your pupil does have the right to refuse if they feel uncomfortable, trainers should consider that this training is absolutely necessary in the development of new Examiners and ensuring trainees can complete their training and be deployed more quickly to where they are needed most, thus reducing waiting times.
NASP believe that the extra-long waiting lists have been created in some part but not exclusively due to a combination of the reasons below:
- The delayed introduction of new examiner contracts
- Trade union disputes
- Previous promises from DVSA to introduce two extra slots a week, which have yet to transpire
- Central government withdrawal of T & S incentive for examiners to travel
We have asked DVSA:
- if there could be better real time communication and more visibility of slots available at alternative centers as this would be helpful in allowing pupils and trainers to make if they so wished, more informed choices about whether to wait for a slot at their local centre, or consider an earlier slot elsewhere.
- to reconsider allowing ADIs to have more power to stop pupils taking the test to early by allowing ADIs to sign off on a pupils’ readiness.
- to keep us regularly updated on developments in this area so we can keep our members appraised. NASP are committed to working with the DVSA to try to find ways to utilise as many test slots as possible and to return waiting times to a sensible level.
This report has been compiled to help keep all driver trainers informed and has been agreed by the majority of NASP members.
Table of waiting times above taken from the June issue of MSA GB monthly magazine Newslink.