The DVSA’s chief executive told MPs that the industry’s significant driver shortage is an “image issue” and nothing to do with the enforcement agency’s testing capacity performance.

Giving evidence to the transport select committee, Gareth Llewellyn said “no-one was knocking my door down” to tell him there were not enough HGV driving examiners and that before the lockdown in March, there were thousands of vacant slots available.

The outgoing chief executive’s comments have once again come as a surprise to the industry, which had already reacted with shock at his suggestion that the traffic commissioners were abolished.

Llewellyn said: “Let me be really clear, the shortage of drivers is nothing to do with the DVSA’s performance.

“Before we went into lockdown in England, we had 6,500 vocational tests booked through to the end of the calendar year. We had 2,300 vacant slots.

“If there was an over-demand for our services then I am not seeing it.

“The issue is an image issue for the industry. The industry needs a really good attraction strategy.”

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Pressed by MPs on the issue of testing capacity, Llewellyn repeated that there was no demand for its testing services: “If there was the demand I’d be out there recruiting people to meet it,” he added.

“That’s not to say that in certain locations it isn’t a challenge, of course.

“More generally, I don’t have a problem with meeting demand for vocational testing.”

The newly-formed Logistics Skills Network (LSN), set up to provide a voice for transport training providers, said Llewellyn’s figures didn’t stack up and that it was “a bit alarming” that he did not know how many HGV tests were normally delivered each year.

Paul Spink, LSN co-founder, said: “The DVSA do have some responsibility and accountability because they provide the examiners and it’s a shortage of examiners that is now causing the continued driver shortage.”

Spink said the LSN’s relationship with the DVSA was “harmonious and cordial” but he added: “There clearly seems to be a lack of understanding of what’s happening at grass roots.

“Our members are telling us they have a huge demand and can’t get tests.

“There’s now a huge demand for drivers that are coming in from other sectors: hospitality and retail, whereby those individuals are seeking to obtain a licence to take up a career as a driver.

“There is a once in a lifetime opportunity now to solve the driver shortage, but it needs the combined resources of the DVSA, driver training schools and the logistics sector, including the 70,000 O-licence operators, to understand this critical timing, which we are faced with at the moment.”