Learner drivers: testing service will be privatised in the next 18 months

The Department of Transport is preparing to outsource the entire driver testing system in a move which could lead to the privatisation of the service within 18 months, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

However, doubts have been raised about what potential savings such a move would achieve. This is because under the terms of the Croke Park agreement, any attempt to do so would require some 200 public service staff to be redeployed within the system elsewhere, meaning they remain on the public payroll.

In recent discussions with unions representing driver testing staff employed by the Road Safety Authority, the department revealed it intended to hire consultants to undertake a study of the current service, with a view to possible outsourcing.

Impact trade union official Denis Rohan told the Sunday Tribune he was confident that any "robust review and comparison" would show that the existing service would beat an outsourced service on both quality and price. He added that any proposal to outsource the service would have to meet the terms of the Croke Park agreement.

"The Croke Park agreement requires management to prove that taxpayers would get better value for money before any outsourcing goes ahead and it requires all costs to be compared and evaluated, not just pay rates," he said. "Impact is confident that the current service can provide far better value for money and a better service to the public than any outside contractor."

Rohan said there were currently some 130 driver testing staff, and between 60-70 additional support staff employed by the state.

It is understood that an invitation to tender for the contract – which Rohan said would be another example of "a waste of taxpayers' money" will be issued next week.

"Not only would an outsourced service cost more, it would also mean most of the existing staff would remain on the public payroll and have to be redeployed under the terms of Croke Park. Impact has told the department that any firm outsourcing
proposal would have to be subject to the provisions of the agreement."

In a report earlier this year, Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley raised concerns about variations between the pass rates of drivers assessed by RSA testers and those of private external contractors.

The report found the national average pass rate for RSA testers in 2008 was 49% compared to 62% for contractors, who conducted some 57% of the 470,000 driving tests in the state that year.