Eight new authorised testing facilities (ATFs) have been opened since the DVSA lifted its moratorium on new sites in June this year, with another 21 approved in principle out of a total of around 50 applications.
However the ATF Operators Association (ATFOA) said this week that opening new testing centres without increasing testing capacity will only exacerbate the ongoing shortage of DVSA testers. It called for the DVSA to boost tester numbers by allowing the use of private sector delegated ATF testers.
The ATF moratorium, which had been in place since 2017 was lifted in the summer last year in line with the recommendations in the DfT's 'Heavy vehicle testing review', carried out last year and as part of measures to help tackle the testing backlog created during the pandemic lockdown.
In a statement, the DVSA told MT this week that since the lifting of the moratorium it has had approximately 50 applications to open new ATFs with eight new sites now authorised and active.
It added that another 21 have been approval in principle and are at various stages of the approval process and should open shortly, with other applications in the approval and/or assessment process.
A spokesman added: “Following the Heavy Vehicle Testing Review, DVSA is allowing new applications for ATFs to open where it was deemed a new testing facility would improve the service overall.
“We’re pleased to see new applications coming in with some sites already open.
“This will improve the testing service by increasing competition and providing more options for vehicle operators.”
Stephen Smith, chairman of the ATFOA said the strategy to open new ATFs was welcome but it added to the problem of the lack of DVSA testers and “robbed Peter to pay Paul”.
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He added: “Whilst the lifting of the moratorium is some progress it does not address the failures of our public sector rule masters restricting free market competition.
“This mentality contributes to the stagnated market we are in. ATF’s hands are tied. No matter what type of service we deliver, we are always suffering from a reduction in testers.
“Now, there are more test centres vying for business from a reduced pool of testers. So, effectively there’s no increase in testing volume, only an increase in where you can get a test.
“Ultimately DVSA have made it more difficult for their partners to trade, they have reduced our supplies and increased our competition.
“ATFOA still maintain that the argument for delegated testing is irrefutable. Government need to allow a proper free market to flourish, without public sector meddling. They always get it wrong.
“The government struggles to justify why HGVs need to be tested by the public sector, when their policy in other industries, such as trains, planes, cranes, generators and ship building allows for the private industry experts to test.”
Since lifting the moratorium, the DVSA has followed a phased approach and only considers applications meeting certain criteria.
These include those from existing ATFs that are moving premises within the same geographic location, applications where the site already has received an ‘approval in principle’ from the DVSA and applications from areas with a substantial shortage of ATFs, such as Orkney and the Highlands of Scotland.
Other applications up for consideration are those where there is a shortage of testing of fully laden fuel tankers or ADR testing, and applications that will significantly improve the service to HGV operators through reduced journey times or other efficiency benefits.