In the run-up to MoT reforms, there are complaints that testing stations have been ‘sidelined’ in the consultation process and concerns about the shortage of those qualified to carry out tests. Report by David Thomas.
It promises to raise test standards and help prevent fraud, but the benefits of linking the MoT system to stringent new computer checks have been overshadowed by claims that the concerns of test stations have been ignored by the government. There’s also anxiety about a shortage of qualified testers and whether enough is being done to improve public credibility of MoTs.
Adding to the disquiet are continuing delays over the new system’s launch date because of revisions to the computer software. Originally, it was due to be fully operational by the autumn of last year. This was changed to August 1 of this year. Now it will be ‘early next year’, preceded by a pilot programme.
The way in which the Department for Transport has handled the changeover has not pleased the Retail Motor Industry Federation, which represents around a third of the 19,200 test stations in the UK. Issues relating to the MoT are usually looked at by a liaison group comprising the DfT, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) – formerly known as the Vehicle Inspectorate – and trade representatives. But Ian Davis-Knight, the RMI’s operations manager and a member of the liaison group, says “affected businesses are being sidelined in the decision-making process”.
To support his complaint, he says the DfT earlier this year asked the group if it wanted a meeting to discuss changes in MoT fees. “I wrote back saying ‘yes please’, because we wanted to talkabout a number of matters, including the need for more training for testers and the shortage of testers, as well as the fee. But he meeting never took place and the DfT denies that it ever received any response from me.”
He also said that too little time was given for response to a DfT consultation paper about fees. Speaking before the run-up to the August 1 deadline for submissions, he said: “It appears to be a fait accompli.”
The issue of fees is a particular bone of contention with Jim Punter, editor of MoT Tester and Authorised Examiner. Punter argues that fee discounting has undermined public regard for the MoT. “There is little sense in promoting the new scheme until this vital issue has been resolved,” he says.
Davis-Knight is calling for the abolition of cut-price testing, commenting: “This is a road safety issue - not just the issuing of a piece of paper to go and get your road tax."
He pointed out that garages offering discounts needed a correspondingly higher volume of traffic to generate the same return as rivals charging the full rate. "When computerisation comes in, the times [of tests] are going to be logged and it may not be feasible for discount stations to perform as many tests as they did before.
"I’m not saying that those offering a discount are necessarily competing tests at a faster rate, but when you’ve got a computer system [logging information] you’ve got a spy in the garage."
Ian Davis Knight also says that more rigorous inspections have highlighted the shortage of testers. “In the old days, anyone who did lube servicing could carry out an MoT. But the complexity of modern cars calls for inspection by top technicians.”
He knew of test stations that had advertised unsuccessfully for up to six months to find testers.
VOSA spokeswoman Jeanette Fordham believes scarcity of testers is part of a wider malaise. "The motor trade’s problems in recruiting suitably qualified people are having a knock-on effect on the number of MoT testers, particularly in the London area. Before you can become an MOT tester, you have to be qualified and therefore you need to be persuaded to become a mechanic in the first place."
Fordham said the delay in rolling out the new computerisation scheme was because software provider Siemens had ‘experienced some difficulties’ in building the system. Changes asked for by VOSA on behalf of the trade - such as the issuing of a receipt rather than a computer-printedresult on current MoT certificate paper that could be open to fraud – had also increased the time taken to write and test software.
Her opposite number at the DfT, in response to Davis-Knight’s claims of being sidelined, said: "The Department is committed to establishing and maintaining a good working relationship with all our stakeholders.
The new MoT scheme heralds the end of the hand-written certificate. In its place will be a computer-generated document recording ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ information tapped in by a registered ‘nominated tester’ (NT) to a terminal at the garage, linked to the DVLA.
Before this can happen, the tester will first insert a ‘smart card’ into the computer and enter a personal identification number, together with the vehicle VIN and registration numbers, for on-line authorisation by the DVLA through its database.
The card will be similar to those used for cash dispensers but in addition to the NT’s signature it will also feature his (or her) photograph.These identification measures are designed to clamp down on fraud; of 23m blank certificates issued each year by the Vehicle Inspectorate, now called the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, typically around 50,000 ‘go missing’.
Faults that cause a vehicle to fail the test will be logged by the DVLA. This is intended to highlight structural or mechanical weaknesses in a particular marque or model so that testers can pay them particular attention.
Following completion of the test, the system will issue a ‘receipt’ carrying the vehicle’s details, together with the time and date of the test and where it was carried out - information that can be checked by a prospective buyer through a call centre, or a website, when the vehicle is sold.
The cost of the equipment required by test stations - including a PC, printer and a smart-card reader that will also be used to transfer the exhaust gas analyser machine results to thePC - will be provided free of charged and funded by the £1.50p increase in the MoT fee.
The new computerised MOT system, currently being developed by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency in partnership with Siemens Business Services, will be on view and available for testing at The Aftermarket Show at the NEC in Birmingham from January 8-11.