Instructors continue campaign as Weir questions Minister

drivers with petition
drivers with petition

LOCAL driving instructors are continuing their campaign against the imminent closure of the Forfar and Arbroath driving test centres.

The shock announcement that the Driving Standards Agency is to close the two offices, without consultation, on March 18 sparked fury among the instructors and local politicians, as those learning to drive face the prospect of travelling to Dundee to sit their test.

The impact the decision will have on the length and cost of lessons, as well as the fear for local jobs, has caused an outcry.

There has been a strong support from the public, both at home and abroad, who have signed an on-line petition on Facebook, as well as paper petitions which have been distributed throughout the area.

On Monday evening instructors from all over Angus met in Arbroath when they put their case to two representative of the DSA.

Lez Wells, a spokesman for the 25 instructors who attended, said the meeting went very well with their local MP and councillors also in attendance.

He said: “The representatives from the DSA listened to us. They were very courteous. However, all of our concerns are of no concern to them - the fact that students need to spend another £200 to pass their test is irrelevant.

“The only thing that made any impression was that I pushed the increasing of our carbon footprint.

“We are now tested on eco-friendly driving and are looking at contacting Friends of the Earth and the Green Party - they have got quite a voice with Westminster and may be able to help us.”

Meanwhile, Angus MP Mike Weir was given the opportunity to tackle the UK Transport Minister directly over the closures.

During a debate in Parliament last week the Minister, Mike Penning, acknowledged the procedure was inadequate and apologised for the lack of notice or consultation; but, despite urging from Mr Weir, he refused to delay implementation until he had reviewed the scheme.

The Minister also indicated he would look at the waiting times at the two centres and, if they were substantially above the target of six weeks, the centres would not close until that target was reached, unless the situation had been caused by block bookings from instructors.

Commenting on the debate Mr Weir said that, although the Minister did indicate possible improvements in the future, he felt frustrated by his apparent unwillingness to deal decisively with the impending closures.

He said: “The Minister agreed that the way in which the matter had been dealt with was totally inadequate, and even apologised for it.

“It seems utterly ludicrous that, in that situation, he was not prepared to, at the very least, postpone any decision until he had a chance to review the code governing closures.

“The Minister did indicate he would postpone any closure until such time as the waiting times at all local centres are reduced if they were substantially above the target level, but only if this was not caused by instructors block bookings.

“At best this would only be a temporary reprieve and does not seem to adequately understand the way such centres work.”

Mr Weir said it was clear money was the governing factor in the situation and the agency was determined to close smaller rural testing centres and centralising services.

He warned the interests of local learners, instructors and the community were being over ridden by a central government agency which was “an unfair and totally unacceptable way for any government department to behave.”

However, the Minister indicated he would look at the possibility of examiners travelling out to local communities to undertake tests, but no time scale was given for this.

Mr Weir has received approaches from other areas where a similar situation had taken place, with one MP from the North West of England intervening in his debate to highlight the situation in his constituency where there had been a substantial drop in use of local driving instructors with learners going to instructors in the area where the test had to be held.

Mr Weir added: “The closure of these centres will have a profound effect not only on learners and instructors but on the whole community.

The driving instructors urge all those who may be affected by the closure of the test centres to sign the on-line petition which can be accessed via Facebook on petitionspot/angusdriving