Carmichael leads parliamentary debate on DVSA

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today led a debate in Parliament on the operations of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in Shetland, highlighting major problems in the agency’s approach and attitude to local people.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Carmichael said:

“I am pleased to have secured this debate, although I am enormously frustrated that it has been necessary. Candidly, as a constituency Member of Parliament, I feel that this is now the tactic of last resort in protecting the interests of my constituency.

“My history of engagement with the DVSA on the provision of HGV and motorcycle testing in Shetland goes back several years. At that early stage, there seemed to be a polite lack of energy in the approach taken by the agency, so at the request of local instructors I became involved.

“At this point, I should put on record my appreciation of the efforts and input from local driving instructors in Shetland, in particular Steve Henry and Petur Petursson. The commitment to the community and the professionalism of both of those gentlemen, and the time and trouble they have taken to advise me and assist DVSA in identifying possible new sites, has gone well beyond anything that could have been asked of them.

“In autumn last year, knowing that the redevelopment of the site at the former Anderson High School was going to bring this to a head again, I reopened correspondence with the DVSA and asked for a meeting with the former chief executive to discuss the situation. Eventually, Loveday Ryder made a commitment to meet me.

“It is fair to say that the meeting on 7 April was not productive. Ahead of it, DVSA officials said that they would not provide further information about progress on the issue as the rules of purdah would not allow it while Scottish parliamentary elections were ongoing. Purdah guidance not only does not forbid the sharing of information in circumstances such as this but actually exists to provide the basis on which it should be done. It appears that that use of the purdah guidance was in fact a quite deliberate attempt by the DVSA to avoid providing me with information that it obviously had at that point.

“It was also apparent at that stage that there was a major issue with the progress of the project, and that all the previous reassurances and commitments I received from the agency were basically worthless. Following the elections at the beginning of May, it was confirmed in correspondence that the agency had decided not to go ahead with the development of the site at the former Decca station, citing the cost.

“I was made aware that it was the intention of the agency to use a third site that it had identified, near the former Scatsta airport, 25 miles north of Lerwick. The local instructors were clear in telling the agency that that was not a workable solution for them and, in fact, if that were the only provision to be made they would discontinue to provide the service. The response of the agency was to ignore the concerns of local instructors and to insist that this was the only service that it would provide.

“Unfortunately, on further investigation it transpired that the DVSA had made no formal attempts to secure a lease on the site near Scatsta airport, and no planning application had been submitted. Despite this, the DVSA proceeded to offer bookings for tests in August; the sheer lack of professionalism in this is breath-taking. As a consequence we now find ourselves in a position where no training or testing for the off-road elements of the HGV and motorcycle tests are available to my constituents in Shetland.

“In essence, the root cause of the problem appears to be a cultural one within the agency; instead of being willing to engage with local stakeholders the attitude has been one of high-handed indifference. The way that the agency has conducted itself lacks not just respect for the local communities but also basic professionalism. In what circumstances can it possibly be appropriate for a Government agency to offer appointments for tests at a site where it does not hold a lease or have any formal agreement with the owner?

“Recent casework has disclosed that all theory tests [in Shetland] in October have been cancelled due to, and I quote, “IT problems”. My office has sought further specification of what the IT problems are, but to date no explanation has been forthcoming. It has been suggested to me—I do not know if this is the case or not—that the IT problem is that they do not have the necessary computers to do the test. If it was not so serious it would be laughable.

“The problems facing the agency seem to go well beyond the shores of Shetland. They are cultural and deep rooted. They ought to be tackled by the senior management of the agency, and if they cannot or will not do that, it should be up to Ministers to sort it. The people who are blameless in all this are my constituents, but they are the ones who are left without this most crucial of public services.”

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