THE UK Government has been accused of “finding excuses” for the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) after its operations in Shetland was raised in a parliament debate.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said “something has to give in the tug of war between the blithe assertions of officials and the reality on the ground”.
Government agency DVSA has come under fire for its service in Shetland, particularly in its attempts to find a new site for motorbike and lorry testing.
There was also criticism for its roll-out of new driving theory test centres and subsequent cancellations due to an IT issue.
This prompted Carmichael to bring the matter to a House of Commons debate, which took place on Wednesday.
During the discussion minister Trudy Harrison claimed Shetland Islands Council’s “intransigence” proved an impediment to progress on a test site.
Carmichael defended the council, saying it had “bent over backwards” to support the DVSA, including offering help for a site at Ladies Drive in Lerwick which fell through over costs.
The DVSA previously hosted tests and training from a tarmac area at the former Anderson High School in Lerwick, but it has failed to secure a new site despite knowing for years it would need to move as the site undergoes redevelopment.
It was set to operate from council owned land at Scatsta Airport, but the move hit roadblocks, with the DVSA confirming in September tests there would not be going ahead.
The proposed shift to the North Mainland had prompted two local training companies to say they would not use the site due to its location.
Shetland Islands Council (SIC) chief executive Maggie Sandison said she did not agree to lease the site at Scatsta to the DVSA because trainers say it is not the best location for a test facility.
She said a “facility without a trainer is of no value to the community”.
“The availability of HGV testing and training is business critical to the council to maintain essential public services,” Sandison added.
“This is why the council has offered to support DVSA to use a better location including the offer to undertake the necessary work to the Lerwick facility at cost and/or provide material at no cost to enable this essential service to remain in Shetland.
“I do not consider these offers to be a display of intransigence. In fact DVSA have not responded to either of these offers to facilitate a better community solution.”
Carmichael said the council listened to concerns on the ground – “but the DVSA refused to do that”.
Speaking after the parliament debate, the MP said: “The intent from the government at this point seems to be more about finding excuses for the DVSA and casting aspersions on the council, local people and anyone else who can be blamed for the agency’s failure to plan and their plans for further failure.
“The simple reality is that it is complacency from the DVSA that has been the barrier to progress on testing issues in the isles.
“They had years to fix the problems that were coming down the track and they did nothing beyond what they were forced to do by myself and others who took a measure of care about the issue.
“The least we should expect is a degree of humility that it has come to this point.
“It feels as though we have taken a step backward rather than forward, with the minister not even acknowledging that there is a problem in the culture of the DVSA.”
Despite seemingly being knocked back for the Scatsta site, the DVSA still has a change of use planning application for the ground under consideration.
DVSA director of north operations Peter Hearn said: “We are committed to providing customers with the best possible service whilst balancing costs and managing public money.
“We have submitted a planning application for the council’s vacant site at Scatsta, as we are keen to exhaust every option to have a testing site in Shetland.
“We look forward to receiving the council’s decision on our planning application.”
Council chief Sandison said the SIC had suggested to the DVSA that “they might like to withdraw their planning application and offered a refund of the fee as they do not have a lease for use of the land”.
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