DRIVING instructors from Forfar have joined their counterparts from throughout Angus in a concerted effort to fight the closure of the Forfar and Arbroath driving test centres.
As revealed in last week’s Dispatch and Herald, the Driving Standards Agency has announced, without consultation, that the two centres will close on March 18, forcing local learner drivers to sit their tests in Dundee or Montrose.
The local instructors lost little time in driving forward their campaign to save the centres, launching an on-line petition on Facebook and contacting the DSA, Motor Schools Association, Members of Parliament and local councillors to seek help.
Some 22 instructors from Forfar, Arbroath, Carnoustie, Montrose, Kirriemuir and Brechin met last week to discuss their plan of action, and so far this action is paying dividends.
Angus MP Mike Weir has secured a debate in the House of Commons on the announcement, believing the move would be very detrimental both to learner drivers and local driving instructors; he will put these concerns direct to the UK Transport Minister.
Mr Weir said: “The way the DSA made the announcement without any public consultation is high handed and totally unacceptable.
“The closure of the two centres will have a serious impact on local learner drivers who could face very substantial increases in costs to learn to drive and take their driving tests in Dundee. It could also lead to a substantial reduction in income for local driving instructors.
“At a time when the UK government says it is committed to increasing jobs in private business and helping small businesses, it is ludicrous that they are allowing the Agency to pursue such centralising measures which will seriously impact on these small businesses and the local community.”
The politician’s concerns are backed by the driving instructors who feel the DSA are making a wrong decision on five points.
A spokesperson for the drivers said: “ Firstly, we believe they are discriminating against the people of Angus. Shutting these two centres is discrimination against the rural environment which is against government policy.
“Secondly, the DSA has only recently got their Charter for Excellence back; they had lost it and have fought long and hard to get it back. They are now shutting these two test centres down without any consultation, so should they have a Charter for Excellence? We don’t think so.
“Thirdly, the government, and hence the DSA, is looking at everyone being green. In the driving test now you are tested on eco-friendly driving. Telling half the population of Angus that they have to drive to Dundee to take a test is leaving a huge carbon footprint.”
The instructors also feel the decision is wrong because of the loss of earnings for instructors due to increased travel distance resulting in increased motoring costs (fuel, mileage, wear and tear, servicing etc), with the possibility of going out of business, hence loss of income for the local community.
Finally, they argue increased lesson times required to get used to different traffic conditions means increased costs for all students in a time of deep recession.
Angus Councillor David Fairweather attended two meetings with the driving instructors last week, stating the people who have made this decision seem to have forgotten that there are livelihoods at stake.
The instructors also feel the decision is discriminatory against pupils in Angus as Angus will only be left with one test centre at Montrose.
The closures were therefore ill thought out and unjust.
As they battle to fight the closure of the two centres, the instructors have put together a petition which is around schools, colleges, shops and garages and on Facebook.
They also plan to send a petition to the Prime Minister at No 10 Downing Street. The spokesperson continued: “More than 30 instructors in Angus are all backing this campaign with instructors in Dundee also starting to show concern.”
The DSA announced the Arbroath and Forfar test centres will close on March 18 and are being replaced with a new state-of-the-art, multi-purpose test centre (MPTC) in Dundee from the end of February.