After Transport Secretary Justine Greening revealed that the Government was no longer going to push for longer 4-2-2 intervals this February, a review of the MOT system was announced.
A key aim of the review was to give consumers greater faith in the tests and work being conducted by MOT garages. Greening said: “I want each motorist to be confident that a visit to the garage ends with their car repaired to a high standard by a reputable mechanic rather than uncertainty about cost and the quality of service.
“Giving drivers the very best information about garage performance is absolutely key to achieving this goal.”
As a result, the Motorists Forum was created by the DfT to gather evidence and advice from the industry and consumers on the best way forward in delivering on Greening’s commitments.
The Forum is, initially, empowered for 12 months and has so far met three times in a bid to reach agreement on recommendations. Chairman of the Group, and former SMMT Chief Executive, Christopher Macgowan has already had a one-to-one meeting with Greening, but formal proposals will only be submitted following a further meeting.
While some proposed recommendations have garnered broad support, other suggestions from some Forum members look set to be rigorously opposed by others.
The most contentious of which is that all MOT garages should, within a year of the Forum’s report, sign up to a “suitably approved and enforced” code of conduct. Membership of such a code should become a requirement for entry into the MOT system, the recommendation reads.
Several Forum members quickly interpreted this as meaning membership of the Motor Code for Service and repair, since Greening herself referenced the SMMT-owned scheme in February. The Motor Code is also targeting and canvassing for all MOT garages to join the scheme.
Halfords’ Bill Duffy, who vigorously campaigned against 4-2-2 interval, questioned that mandated Motor Code membership should be recommended and said the key thing was to convince consumers of the quality of work and routes of redress if things went wrong, whichever banner this could be achieved under.
The AA’s Theresa Perchard said research shows approved codes are better than formal regulation. The whole panel agreed that this was not the way forward, and said whether one code in particular should be adopted was a separate debate. Perchard also said the approval process has, in the past, been slow.
Trading Standards boss Rob Gainsford also thought the recommendation should be about OFT-approved codes in general, and not one in particular. Now in charge of administering approved codes, Gainsford acknowledged that the process is not perfect, but said he was committed to working with stakeholders to address issues.
SMMT Chief Executive Paul Everitt said there was nothing stopping any other organisation from developing a code if they chose to then compete with existing schemes.
While the RMI’s Independent Garage Association has said the industry should have only one code, the IGA still has its Trust My Garage badge of honour for members.
IGA Director Stuart James told the Forum that he represented 3500 independent garages that are audited by the association and which proved to have very low levels of complaints. James said more options than codes should be explored, even if this takes more time.
While the formal licensing route is not backed by any member of the Forum, it seems likely that the proposed target of code membership within a year will be made less ambitious.
Revised recommendations are now being circulated to Forum members, but Chairman Macgowan conceeds that not all members still might not feel able to sign up to the report. The report can, in any event, be submitted without every members’ signature.
Other contentious recommendations are that garages which have signed up to a suitably approved and enforced code of conduct should be subject to less scrutiny by VOSA administrators.
A number of Forum members questioned the focus on the MOT since the broader remit of the group is to recommend on improvements across the service and repair board, while Duffy said the goal should be for universal technical standards.
It is a similar story around the proposed recommendation that all garages should be obliged to have IMI, ATA or equivalent training. Members thought incentives for training should be introduced rather than compulsory measures and that other routes to competence should be considered, not just for technical skills but also for customer service.