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A response from Adrian Whiting, and my reply.

Dear Ian, 

Thank you for your email.

I felt it appropriate to respond to you on this particular one as you have raised a number of questions about the financial arrangements in respect of the Driver Awareness Scheme to which you had already been provided with the answers I believe.  These are contained largely in the Dorset Police Authority report on the matter, which is on the Police Authority website.

In short the fees that are paid by attendees on the course go towards some of the overall costs of policing the roads.  Some of this helps to cover the actual cost of the course and some of it helps to provide other driver training such as work with younger drivers at colleges, and towards police operational activity that would otherwise not take place.  In this latter area would be additional police traffic patrols.

The scheme fees contribute about £1.4m towards the total spend on road safety by the force of £5.1m.  If this funding were not available then operational police activity would be less by a commensurate amount because the Authority would no longer have the full £5.1m to spend.

I think you do yourself a disservice by speculating on the actual course costs in the way you do below.  Reasoned and rational challenge is to be welcomed from all quarters, but sensationalist speculation is not what I would associate with you.

Yours,

Adrian

Adrian Whiting

My reply:

Dear Adrian, 

Many thanks for responding as usual in your calm and informative way. I just wish that some of those in the DfT, the Council, and safety organisations such as Dorset Road Safe, could respond in any meaningful way at all, if any useful communications were possible I’m sure that the obvious frustration that results from being ignored would not have grown to the extent it has, and my communications would certainly be calmer.

Although I am angry about these issues I am largely simply acting as a spokesperson for the many who write to me with the same concerns. Here’s an email which came in today, for example:

“Ian, 

In regards to your article http://www.dorsetspeed.org.uk/news/sog30.aspx

I am glad someone in a position to raise media awareness such as yourself has cottoned onto this sneaky method of income the DSCP has been busy working away at. I have been on one of these courses and although they are reasonably well run and informative courses, it’s all run from the police HQ (in my area) at Winfrith with tea, juice and biscuits provided, certainly no smoked salmon on offer – therefore costs kept very efficient from the DSCP’s point of view, for maximum profit.

The cost is approx. £10 more than the fine would be should you wish to take the traditional fine and points, of course the points are kept off your license, saving you much more than the £10 extra in insurance increases. The course was absolutely jam packed, and there was two simultaneous courses running at the same time. There were some people at the course paying £150, who were required to go on a practical assessment after the normal course. I’d estimate there were about 20 people in each classroom.

Keep up the good work in exposing everything this band of cowboys are continuing to get away with, they seem to be accountable to no-one.

Regards

Dorset Road Safe seems to have persuaded itself and tries to persuade us it has public support, but it really does not.

My "estimation" of the actual course cost of £30 per person may or may not be correct, but does not seem unrealistic. The actual course cost is obviously well below the £100 charged. I can’t see anything too wrong or even sensationalist with that? My other more flippant remarks were made in the context of local authorities not gaining from the proceeds of safety partnerships, as we have previously been told. 

Most would not be too disappointed to hear that the “profit” from the courses is spent on “overall costs of policing the roads”. The problems are:

-         there is deep distrust about the methods of “roads policing” and where the money goes. It would be interesting to see a spend breakdown of the £5.1m. Is such information in the public domain or do I need to raise an FOI request for this?

-         If large amounts of money are collected, but then spent inefficiently on the wrong solutions (partly in order to keep the money coming in), as is the popular perception, it’s just completely pointless and damaging. Why is it a rarity to see a traffic cop around the streets of Poole? £5.1m would pay for plenty of them (excuse the element of speculation again).  

-         we are already taxed for police services and expect those funds to be used as effectively as possible, and provide adequate policing.

-         We are normally told that road safety activities have NOTHING to do with raising money. If we were normally told that some elements of road safety activities were in fact to raise money to pay for basic levels of policing because it can’t be afforded any other way, as you have now suggested, it might be unpopular but at least it would be honest.

-         Both the DfT and Dorset Road Safe are trying to mislead, by saying no money goes to local authorities when it clearly does. The air of deception is one of the big problems and with the large amounts of money, jobs, questionable operations, poor communication etc. is bound to breed considerable distrust.

Take for example the Speed on Green. If the publicity had been “this is not a casualty reduction effort but it will allow us to pay for 4 traffic police in 2 cars which we need to police the roads properly but can’t otherwise afford” rather than the confused and totally inadequate drivel we’ve heard from "DSCP / DRS spokespersons", it would not be nearly so bad. Some would be angry that policing that should be provided anyway has to be paid for by such means, but at least it would be honest, and focus debate where it should be, i.e. police funding amounts and methods, and efficiency.

The fact remains, large numbers of people are being fined, and in some cases having their lives ruined, for driving totally safely, while it is easy to drive like a complete lunatic without being caught, and accident, death, and injury rates are too high. There seem to have been several bad accidents with serious injuries and deaths reported in the local press recently that I’ve seen.

I’m certain it’s not all bad, “work with younger drivers” etc. is great, as long as it it positive (and therefore likely to be taken in), and I have to say, those who have commented on the course say it is good, although none have felt that they were the right target audience (my wife included!). But I’m afraid I’m certain that a lot is still bad, and I’m starting to think that my actions, even if a little clumsy, may help to start improving things.

Adrian, I know you have a tough job and you’ll never please everyone, but some of those around you, and in the government and council, need to learn from your professionalism particularly in terms of communication.

Best regards, Ian