Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Ceisteanna (2)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

39 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport if he was consulted by the Department of Finance on plans to subcontract key functions in terms of the invigilation of imported cars including the Revenue Commissioner check and collection of vehicle registration tax payments to the national car test operator; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18067/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Transport)

A working group of local authorities, Departments, including a representative from my Department, the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Road Safety Authority was established to identify improvements in the legislative and enforcement framework arising from the increase in the numbers of foreign registered vehicles on our roads. The group reported to the Minister for Finance in October 2008 and recommended that all used vehicles should be examined prior to registration in Ireland. Section 61 of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2008 provided that the Revenue Commissioners could appoint a competent authority to carry out pre-registration checks on used imports on their behalf.

I understand there is a separate contract between the Revenue Commissioners and the NCT operator on import conformance inspections. The operation of this contract is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners.

This change and the granting of this contract to Applus+ is a very significant development given that almost 11,400 cars were imported and had to be re-registered here during the first quarter of 2010. The performance of Applus+ with regard to the NCT test is the key concern of those who import cars — whether for personal use or for resale. This was the main thrust of my question, which was deleted unfortunately. The key concern relates to the administration of the NCT.

Is the Minister satisfied with the current performance of Applus+ Technologies? Does he know how many people are waiting for an NCT appointment and what is the average waiting time for an appointment? Is it still the case, as The Irish Times found last month, that at 34 of the 46 NCT centres it was not possible to receive a date for a test within six weeks and that one could not book a test more than six weeks in advance? The Minister is presiding over an NCT system that has been a total shambles and grossly unfair to our constituents since Applus+ started to operate it in January.

A few weeks ago, the late Gerry Ryan, the much missed broadcaster who died in recent days, received a call on his show from a person who, on seeking to arrange an NCT in Tipperary, was offered a test in the Dublin area several weeks later. Applus+ is responsible for the collapse of the NCT system yet the Minister does not appear to be remotely concerned.

The Deputy is incorrect that I am not remotely concerned. I agree that the start of the contract with Applus+ has been difficult, largely due to the success of my efforts to ensure people comply with the national car test. I was criticised in the House when I introduced a proposal to impose five penalty points on those who do not comply with the NCT. This proposal resulted in a surge in the number of applications for the test.

In addition, the first quarter of the year is generally very busy as most cars are registered in this quarter. I accept that difficulties have arisen. Under the contract agreed with the Department, Applus+ must reach specific targets and failure to do so will result in the company being penalised vis-à-vis the payments it receives. In response to concerns raised by my Department, Applus+ has taken a number of steps to address the problem. It employed an additional 14 vehicle inspectors and a further 18 inspectors will soon commence employment. This will bring to 420 the number of vehicle inspectors available to the company, the highest figure ever. An additional 29 posts are being created in the company’s call centre, 26 administrative staff will shortly commence employment and two new test centres are in operation.

While I accept that a problem arose at the beginning of the year, it is being tackled. In the period up to mid-April, the number of applications on the waiting list peaked at almost 32,000. By 30 April, the waiting list had fallen to 7,180.

Under the old system, the testing company, which at that time was SGS, informed vehicle owners that the NCT was imminent. Why did we not keep a system which appeared to work well for most citizens? Deputy O'Mahony has repeatedly raised the four week rule, under which drivers who are not given a date for a national car test within four weeks are, it seems, entitled to a refund. Refunds do not appear to be forthcoming, however. Is the Minister aware of the position in this regard?

The Road Safety Authority was reported to be considering serious sanctions against Applus+ on the basis that it was not performing according to its contract. Has the Minister received a report on this matter? Does he agree that the RSA should take stringent measures against the company if it does not implement its contract, which runs for nine years and is worth €400 million?

The current system is largely the same as the previous one. The contractors involved have changed as a result of a tender process which was established following the completion of the previous contract. SGS provided a reasonably good service, although it was not without its problems and there were complaints from Members about some aspects of it.

I am aware of the difficulties. I visited the RSA recently and I was briefed fully on the new contract, which includes penalty clauses, meaning that the company will lose money as a result of not meeting certain criteria on the notification of tests and so on. If people are not informed within four weeks, they are entitled to a free test and that is at the expense of Applus+ rather than at the expense of the taxpayer. There is a very good contract in place and I commend those who put it in there.