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Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency: Performance

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 19 January 2023

The DVSA is recovering after the pandemic. The theory test service is performing well. There are 620,000 practical test appointments in the booking system. Since April 2021, the DVSA has created an extra 695,000 car practical driving test appointments and the average waiting time to take a car test is at 15.1 weeks, with more than 80,000 slots currently available. The average waiting time for an HGV or other vocational driving test is currently just over two weeks. The heavy vehicle testing service is operating normally and enforcement operations continued throughout the pandemic.

If the Minister were to go online to book a test in my constituency today, he would find that in Shetland, the earliest date is 18 weeks away and in Orkney, there are no test dates available. That is quite apart from the continued lack of availability of off-road motorcycle testing. The history of the DVSA in Orkney and in Shetland in particular in recent years has been frankly pitiful. When it comes to the next performance appraisal interview with the chief executive of the DVSA, could the Minister prevail upon her to find a day or two to come north and see for herself the effect that her stewardship has had on our communities?

My understanding is that in Shetland, the average waiting time is 18 weeks, but in Orkney the waiting time is significantly less. I do not understand the discrepancy between us, so I shall write to the right hon. Member about that. I was surprised that he did not also welcome the £26.7 million that has just been announced today for transport funding for the Shetland Islands Council for the Fair Isle infrastructure project, showing how much this Government are investing in his constituency.

Notwithstanding the answer that my hon. Friend just gave, multiple constituents have written to me this week about the inability to get a driving test. One said that despite logging on daily, they cannot get a test at all in nearby test centres at Bletchley, Leighton Buzzard, Aylesbury, Banbury or Northampton. For rural communities like those I represent, the car is essential for people, young or old, to get anywhere, so when my hon. Friend talks to the DVSA, will he prioritise test centres for rural communities to get back on track?

I also represent a rural constituency, although in a different part of the country. What I would say to my hon. Friend is that we have made big progress in recent years, with more than 300,000 new slots available due to the extra 300 driving examiners we have hired since the pandemic. Waiting lists are coming down for driving tests, and rapidly, and we hope to achieve pre-pandemic levels within the next few months.

Nationwide, almost one in 10 bus driver positions is vacant, hitting vital services across the country hard, but Ministers are asleep at the wheel, with no action plan to tackle it. Currently, the DVSA requires a provisional bus licence to start training, but with huge paperwork delays, 20% of applicants give up before their training begins. Will the Minister listen to calls to speed up this glacial process to allow applicants to begin their theory tests while they wait for their provisional licences?

The Opposition spokesperson raises an important point that I have been raising myself. I have spoken to both the unions and the management during recent visits to Stevenage and Gateshead bus depots. There is an under three-week wait for practical driving tests for bus drivers. We are looking to do everything we can to speed that up. On a recent visit to the Gateshead depot I was told that at the start of the pandemic they had more than 150 vacancies. They are now down to under 20. We are seeing massive progress across the country. I want us to do everything we can to go further, which is why we have increased the number of driving tests, and during the pandemic we prioritised both HGV drivers and passenger transport drivers. I will continue to do everything I can in that space.