The Logistics Skills Network (LSN) has called on the DVSA to take urgent action to address a shortfall in HGV driving tests that the LSN said is now creating a bottleneck blocking attempts by industry and government to address the HGV driver shortage.

The LSN has put together a three-point plan (see below) to address the shortage of DVSA examiners and is asking the DfT to change its policy and liberalise testing to allow training providers as well as transport operators to carry out driver testing.

Paul Spink, executive director of the LSN, said: “Despite the DVSA claiming in its letter to jus of 10 February that ‘DVSA are delivering 90% more practical tests than pre-pandemic levels’ the facts paint a different picture.

“In the calendar year 2019 there were 73,554 tests completed and in the year April 2021 to March 2022, which coincides with resumption of testing in April 2021, there were 95,888.

“According to my calculations that is an increase of 22,334 tests - compared to a true pre-pandemic period - which is just a 30% increase. While the figure of 10,481 for March 2022 is encouraging it is still nowhere near the claimed 90% increase. The sector urgently needs around 15,000 tests per month to satisfy demand.”

Spink also took issue with the DVSA’s claims to have recruited an additional 22 DVSA examiners to boost testing capacity as he believes examiners are “leaving in droves”.

“I very much doubt that the DVSA examiner head count is any more today than it was two years ago,” he said. “They will struggle to attract new examiners and the attrition rate is huge. The salary is £28,000 and they could earn £45,000 working for a training provider or operator – or being a driver.”

Another route to increasing testing capacity would be to fully privatise HGV driver testing to allow training providers to test as well as train new drivers, but this would require a change in legislation.

Since the 1997 Transport Act, the government has allowed O-licensed transport operators to train and test their own employed drivers. “This was bizarre because operators have more of a vested interest in passing trainees compared with a training provider,” said Spink. “With the pressure that the haulage industry is under, if a driver was marginal, the inhouse trainer – who is also the examiner – might be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

“There is nothing in that Act to allow training providers to train and independently examine their own learners, which seems at odds with the provision to do that as a transport operator.”

Spink argued that as examiners have been leaving the DVSA, some to set up their own HGV driver training schools, there is a pool of highly qualified instructors in the private sector ready and able to take on testing as well as training.

“These individuals have already swapped sides and are qualified examiners but cannot conduct tests,” he said. “Some of those former DVSA examiners have moved to the larger 3PLs and can examine if they have been on the right course.

“There are others such as delegated driving examiners [DDEs] many of whom worked in the military and fire services as well as individuals who have been doing the job 20 or 30 years and who could be trained and approved in four weeks by the DVSA to carry out tests in the private sector. That is how the DVSA filled the gap between September and December last year when they called in the defence DDEs and put them through a crash course.

“There is no point the network have surplus instructors twiddling their thumbs while the DVSA is struggling for examiners.”

Without action to increase testing capacity, Spink worries that much of the £34m allocated by the Department for Education (DfE) to training or retraining 11,000 HGV through Skills Bootcamps will be wasted.

“You can imagine Boris Johnson looking at coverage of empty shelves last year and saying to [transport secretary] Grant Shapps ‘we can’t tolerate this, sort it’,” said Spink. “We were lobbying for liberalisation of Mod3a tests as part of our six-point plan to train more drivers and we never dreamt they would scrap B+E testing [for car drivers wanting to tow a trailer or caravan] to free up examiners to test 30,000 more C and C+E [HGV driver] candidates.

“They had a run rate pre-Covid of about 72,000 tests on average a year and now they are running at 120,000 a year. That gap has partly been filled by those 30,000 tests so they have only been able to increase their own base level by knocking B+E on the head. The other 20,000 tests are more than likely to have come from the private sector delivering Mod3a to enable DVSA examiners to increase their output from four HGV tests a day to five.

“The Bootcamps are going to fail if Shapps can’t deliver enough tests and with 95% of everything we use being delivered on a truck the whole UK economy is dependent on having enough HGV drivers.”

David Coombes, chair of the LSN, concluded: “Seven months after the DVSA policy changes were introduced, HGV training schools are still being rationed for HGV test slots. What aspects of the DVSA’s plan are not working?

“We suspect that the number of DVSA examiners has not been increased to the level that the DVSA had hoped for, that the DVSA are still conducting too many Mod3a and Mod 4 tests, and we suspect that too many tests are wasted due to cancellation policies. The Logistics Skills Network’s three-point plan offers quick wins to the last three issues. Clearly examiners is not something we can influence.”

The LSN three-point plan

The LSN’s three-point plan (3-PP) is to privatise as much as possible of the Mod 3a (manoeuvring and reversing off-road test) and Mod 4 (practical demonstration test) so that DVSA can concentrate on delivering Mod3b (practical on-road test).

• Mod3a – currently there are some 273 private organisations operating from 265 approved sites with 748 approved Mod3 assessors. What we’d like to find out is what percentage of the total does this represent. We were previously informed that the private sector was delivering 40%. By moving this to 100% we believe this would release DVSA examiners to deliver a further 1,397 Mod3b tests per month.

• Mod4 – there is a restricted number of Mod4 privatised examiners as DVSA has, other than for a short period of time in September to October 2021, failed to deliver any ‘train the examiner’ courses. So there is a shortage of privatised examiners. We have been calling on the DVSA to resume such training programmes since last year, but they have failed to provide any information as to when this will resume. There is certainly a willing and able contingent of vocational training providers who wish to support and place their HGV instructors on the training programme. We calculate if Mod4 was completely privatised it would release 841 additional Mod3b tests per month.

• Cancellation period (for 100% refund of test fee) – the current rules permit HGV training schools to hand back booked tests 10 working days prior without charge. This still often results in DVSA examiners being under-utilised the consequences of which are unused tests. We have asked the DVSA to extend the cancellation period to 15 working days, to better enable those tests which are handed back to be re-cycled and taken up by other training schools. So far this has not happened – we calculate this could result in saving 1,666 test per month.

Based on March’s activity of 10,481, the 3-PP could result in achieving 14,385 Mod3b tests per month – without the DVSA having to increase its own examiner team.