Today I received yet another message: “can we work?”
I have to pause to remind myself as an educator, why people ask questions. It’s because they don’t know the answers. To many, it appears to be very clear – but equally to many it’s not clear. I try to put my research hat on and look at the facts and I must say it all seems odd. I can certainly see why driving instructors could be confused by this whole situation.
The Government announced a national lock down from 5th of November to 2nd of December. This caused nationwide confusion as to whether we can even work on the 2nd – or is it the 3rd? The advice on the DVSA website now says the restrictions are valid up to and including the 1st, so back to work on the 2nd.
The DVSA advice…
The advice given currently by the DVSA says “You should not carry out driving lessons and motorcycle training in England from Thursday 5th November up to and including Tuesday 1st December 2020.”
Now, this is causing confusion because whilst the DVSA are the licencing authority, many say they have no powers to prosecute or even dictate that driving instructors should not work. On one hand, driving instructors are self-employed on the whole and therefore are their own bosses. But on the other hand, the DVSA are a government body and many see them as THE government.
DVSA have said that they can’t enforce this rule, but that is up to the police. If a driving instructor was prosecuted for anything, the DVSA would look at each individual circumstance and consider if they were a ‘fit and proper person’ and therefore remove their registration. This is a huge threat but this is the official governing body giving the official line. The DVSA can’t say for certain someone would be struck off – they don’t know.
So, the official advice is, if the police decide to prosecute you, the DVSA might strike you off the register. Umm, now it’s getting confusing!
What’s an essential journey?
So now the government has said people should only leave their houses for essential journeys.
Is a driving lesson an essential journey? Well you’ll find no official definition here only personal interpretation. If you need a car for work, looking after a sick relative or any manner of things, you might consider it essential. In the last lockdown, the DVSA advised that we could continue teaching key workers, however this time they have very clearly said no (although they have said they might review this).
IF you were stopped by the police, could you argue the journey was essential?
“Please sir, we’re educational”
The government has said that they want education to continue. Ah, some hope perhaps.
Are driving lessons ‘educational’? I would argue yes, but would the DVSA, government or your local police officer?
Are karate lessons educational? Yes. Are they essential? Well maybe if you’re being mugged, but would it stand up in law? Are pottery, French or welding lessons educational? Who sets the bar on what is ok to teach during this lockdown and what not to teach? Very confusing.
The great insurance stand-off
I have not checked myself, but I see driving instructors are discussing insurance. Some say they have called their insurers and have been told they would not be covered; some say their insurers have said they would. I’m no expert but I have heard of insurers using terms such as ‘not within the conditions of the law or licence etc’. Totally confused….
“But everyone else is working”
To add to this confusion, this week I had to take my vehicle for its MOT. It has been 18 months since it was done as it was extended in the last lockdown. Was this essential?
I would argue yes and the fact that it failed on a brake problem and needing some welding would confirm that to me. Garages are open for business. Not for essential workers, but for anyone. In fact on my journey I saw workmen clearing drains, a car salesman busy selling a car to someone and as I passed through my local town it appeared like business as usual. In the last lockdown Liskeard was like a ghost town, but this day all looked normal.
People all across England are noticing how it appears as if there is no lockdown. Now driving instructors start to feel “why us?” Why are driving instructors not able to work when taxi drivers, car sales, garages and so many others are working? This just adds to the confusion and leaves driving instructors feeling like poor cousins.
Now I know this has not just affected driving schools. I have friends in a business group from many business types affected by this. I know pubs and restaurants are being hit bad but driving instructors just see so many carrying on as normal and wonder why.
“I’m alright Jack”
To add to this, we have driving instructors who, during the last lockdown were able to claim their 80% profit and do very well in the period between lockdowns. I have no doubt there will be driving instructors actually seeing a rise in their income this year because of it.
But on the flip side, many got nothing or very little. Some instructors could not see how they would manage during the last lockdown, but did come out of it and worked like crazy to support their families. This second lockdown is a real gut wrench to them. They see it all falling apart and although we have this date of December 2nd, live in the fear that it could be extended.
Too small to be a small business, really!
There is no doubt that lockdowns affect businesses both large and small. Small businesses have their own mouths to feed and big businesses have not only their own mouths, but those of their employees.
Legislation around furlough is complex and difficult. It changes each time and is totally confusing. Yes, we could pay an expert, but in these uncertain times we just don’t know what’s round the corner. Grants seem in favour of the bigger companies. I tried myself to get a grant only to be told I was NOT a small business but a micro-business. A micro-business incidentally is fewer than 10 employees and under £2 million turn over. If I had £2 million turn over, I doubt I would want the £1500 grant I applied for!
While I understand why we would want a lockdown as a country, I think it’s hugely damaging for business. If you’re coming from a position of financial security or ‘ok’ with the support, then it’s a lot easier to choose a lockdown.
The Welsh talked of their firebreak. A firebreak if I’m correct is a phrase used to contain forest fires. In it, a complete and definite clearing is made, stopping the fire in its tracks so it can’t spread any further. Everything in this firebreak is cleared. Old trees, new trees, everything. But if there was a path of trees left, connecting one side to the other, this break won’t work. This is what I feel we have with our lockdown. Too many pathways for the fire to pass through. We might slow the rate a bit, but the virus will only grow again. This view is shared by others and adds to all this confusion.
The conclusion is…I don’t know 😥😥
So, can we work? All the advice is no. But that’s advice.
Legally, who fancies a challenge? Not me.
Morally we need to do our bit. Financially we all have different needs. Personally, I wish I could give you an absolute answer, but I can’t. All I can say is I am here as usual to support where I can. I will do my best to support you where I can and for my instructors will be supporting them back to work where I can. Its not a lot in this troubled time but we are in this storm together – albeit in different boats.
Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI (or Driving School Dave) is the most qualified driving school owner in the country, after completing his Master’s Degree in Driver Training Education in 2011 at Middlesex University. He also holds a diploma in Driving Instruction and is a Cert Ed. qualified teacher. Dave is the founder and Managing Director of 1st 4 Driving Ltd, and also looks after over 15 driving schools across the country on a consultancy basis.