Licensing and accreditation scheme for technicians working on automated and electric vehicles

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 23rd March 2017.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations establish a scheme for the licensing and accreditation of technicians working on automated and electric vehicles.

(2) The scheme must include details of—

(a) which professional body will operate the licensing and accreditation of technicians,

(b) how the licensing and accreditation scheme will operate,

(c) a minimum level of training for technicians working on automated and electric vehicles, and

(d) how a list of accredited individuals will be prepared and kept up-to-date.

(3) In this section “working on automated and electric vehicles” includes isolating, inspecting, repairing and maintaining vehicles that are listed under section 1 of this Act.”—

This new clause would require the Government to bring forward regulations for technicians working on automated and electric vehicles in order to ensure they are properly trained, accredited and licensed to carry out that work. This would be regulated by a professional body who would operate a licensing scheme for those technicians.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We know that the automotive industry relies on hundreds of thousands of individuals in a range of roles to support work on and to maintain vehicles, and it will continue to do so in the future, but as technology develops, so too must the skills of those working on vehicles. We have already heard that the automotive industry faces a skills gap, and as technology develops that gap could widen.

The Bill as it stands does not address that worsening skills gap. We could soon face a gaping hole in the support structures needed for ultra low emission vehicles and for connected and autonomous vehicles, including automated vehicles. The Government need to have a laser-like focus on building our skills base, as people across the automotive industry have told us time and again, not only for electric and automated vehicles but for other car technologies too. That means we need a skills base in automotive research, development and manufacturing, as well as for technicians working on vehicles, so that we can boost job prospects and personal development for the hundreds of thousands of livelihoods linked to this industry.

All that is much needed and important, but the new clause goes deeper than that. It asks whether it is not time for the proper accreditation of qualifications for maintaining and servicing this new generation of sophisticated vehicles. I think the evidence indicates that it certainly is.

I declare an interest as a fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry. It has shown that 81% of independent garages find it difficult to recruit technicians with the skills and competences they need to undertake work on the kind of technologically advanced vehicles that we have been talking about. It thinks that of the 180,000 technicians in the UK, only about 2,000 are qualified to work on electric vehicles, all of whom are employed in manufacturer dealerships.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

Does not the hon. Gentleman’s new clause have three defects—it is bureaucratic, costly and unnecessary? Does he agree that, if a licensing system of the kind he is envisaging were brought in, the customer would have to pay for it through higher bills? Why would one need a licensed, accredited mechanic if one just wanted a lightbulb or a tyre changing?

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

The short answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions is: no, no and no. The new clause would not require a licensed technician to check the tyres or change a lightbulb. That is why it asks the Government to bring forward regulations for the kind of accreditation scheme that would be brought in. I also do not believe it would lead to a high cost—in fact, quite the reverse, for reasons I will come on to talk about.

The main thing is that there is a high risk if untrained technicians attempting to work on these kinds of vehicle. I make no bones about this: it could put lives at risk. The battery pack on an electric vehicle carries up to 600 V. If someone needs certification—it used to be called CORGI certification—to repair a gas boiler, is it too much to say that they need some kind of accreditation or qualification to work on future vehicles? Even electricians conducting electrical work in our homes have to be licensed to do so. That is for households that typically run on 240 V AC. For EVs, we are talking about 600 V, and sometimes more. This is about the safety of the vehicles themselves, the people who work on them, those who drive them and other road users around them.

The new clause’s main purpose is safety, but it is not just about that. It is also about enhancing skills, providing mobility and progression for technicians, and giving market certainty about safety standards. I think it could have a wider impact on issues such as insurance uptake and viability. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. I think that if it is not addressed, the skills shortages could result in higher repair and insurance costs. In some ways, that is already happening. There are already concerns about the insurance costs of some electric vehicles and ultra low emission vehicles. Some insurance charges for EVs are estimated to be as much as 50% higher than their petrol and diesel equivalents. That is because of the assessment made of the nature of the technologies involved.

We believe, as do a number of stakeholders, that the Government should consider introducing an accreditation scheme for technicians who will work on those future vehicles. They have to look at the details of that and at how it can avoid the kind of unintended consequences that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. If the Government introduce a scheme, they will be promoting safety and supporting the growth of the new generation of vehicles, in the way that we all want to see.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

May I, too, associate myself with the remarks made by the Minister? We share the view that acts of violence such as those we witnessed yesterday must never deter us from our duties in this Parliament. We also share the gratitude and appreciation for those who seek to protect us in discharging our duties here.

I rise to support the new clause. It is important to consider safety, not just for vehicle users, but for those who work on them. Clearly, that should be of the utmost importance. It is also important for another reason: to provide reassurance and underpin safety for consumers. We want to encourage further uptake of these vehicles and ensure that people have confidence in them. Prospective owners need a degree of trust and security that the vehicles will be safe, secure and not liable to faults or malfunctions. Having accredited technicians will help to alleviate those issues greatly and will build consumer trust with approved regulated training.

It is important to look at opportunities for people to gain the skills we need. I particularly ask the Minister to look at measures that might encourage girls and young women into the sector to take advantage of new opportunities. As a result of the UK leaving the EU, it is more important than ever to have the protections and regulations in place to make sure that safety measures are covered. We support the new clause for those reasons.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Once again, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield has made a helpful contribution. He will know that I am interested in and reasonably knowledgeable about—it does not pay to overstate one’s knowledge—the subject of skills, having been the Skills Minister, as well as the other things I have mentioned during the Committee, and I take extremely seriously the development of practical competencies and their effect.

The hon. Gentleman is right that ensuring that we have a suitably skilled workforce is important to secure the bright new automated future that we seek. That future will be both automated and electrified, not merely by my rhetoric, but by the technological changes. The skills associated with the vehicles will need to develop in parallel with those changes. The design, development and deployment of vehicles must be matched by competencies in their repair and maintenance, of which people can be sure and of which we can be proud. As he said, motorists with these new types of vehicles will clearly expect the same levels of knowledge, expertise and customer service as they expect for the vehicles that we drive now.

It is important to recognise that the technology is different at developing stages. Just as development will be incremental, the acquisition of skills needs to keep pace with the changes. Although other vehicle technologies are more mature, automated vehicles are still in their infancy—they are just starting to be tested. As the professional body for the automotive industries, the Institute of the Motor Industry is well placed to help the Government understand the challenge of ensuring that vehicle maintenance and repair are carried out in a professional and safe manner for both technicians and drivers. We have already made some progress. The institute has already developed an accredited levels 1 to 3 qualification in EV maintenance and repair. It is estimated that there are between 30 and 50 UK colleges and training providers offering these courses. City & Guilds also offers equivalent qualifications.

That is a good start, and engaging through those means seems to me to be the right thing to do, but we can do more. I have been discussing that with my officials this morning. Earlier this week I met my successor, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, and yesterday, I was able to discuss the issue with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy when he joined me in Coventry. There will be a need for intergovernmental and cross-departmental work and for continued engagement with the industry.

In the roundtable meeting I held last week with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, we began to develop the idea of a subset of the Automotive Council, which Members will know is a well established means by which what was once the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and is now the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy engages regularly with the automotive sector. A subset of that council might look specifically at the area of the development of skills, working with my Department and through my Department engaging the other elements of Government as necessary.

I do think that work would be helpful, and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was able to confirm to me yesterday that he shared my view. As a direct result of our discussions in Committee and my further consideration, I would like to feel we could, as well as the work I have outlined here, take forward an extra piece of work of that kind. I do not have any greater detail, but as soon as I do I will let the House know, including members of this Committee. My hope is that we can make progress on this matter during the course of the Bill’s passage to respond to some of the points raised today.

For automated vehicles, the situation is clearly different because of their very early stage of development, which makes it hard to develop an equivalent training, licensing and accreditation scheme. We need to continue to liaise with the relevant technology professional bodies, and those initial discussions will help to shape thinking, at least. It is not unfeasible that the work on automated vehicles can to some degree mirror the work we are doing on electric vehicles. It will be underpinned by exactly what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield described: sufficient certainty through accreditation to guarantee standards and safety. That is the minimum that consumers will want.

We have spoken of some of the barriers to entry facing those who choose to drive these new kinds of vehicles. Price has been mentioned, and electric charging infrastructure is dealt with centrally in the Bill. There are doubts about battery technology, which we may be able to assuage through further development. It is right to say that a further barrier might be the concern that we do not have people who can repair and maintain vehicles at an affordable price. We need to consider that with the industry and across Government in the way I have described.

In response to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire—I have shared this with colleagues on the Committee, with others and with the industry, and I do so again—it is important to ensure that there is a broad and deep spread of expertise. We certainly need people with depth of knowledge and skill to alleviate the fears I described, but we also need to ensure that they are accessible. We do not want a situation where there are few repair centres, largely in urban areas and probably owned by manufacturers, that are the only places where one can have one’s car repaired. That would not serve our intended purpose, which is to embed skills in a way that allows people, with confidence, to purchase, drive and continue to own an electric vehicle or, later, an automated vehicle. We will consider that in our work.

I hope that Committee members know how enthusiastic I am about technical, vocational and practical learning. They can be sure that I will apply that enthusiasm and diligence to the work that we do in this area. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his new clause.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport) 12:00 pm, 23rd March 2017

The Minister is right about the prospect of a situation in which the only place that people can find trained and qualified technicians to work on the new generation of vehicles is in manufacturers’ dealerships, often in urban centres. That is the scenario that we could face unless we do something along the lines of the new clause. The same kind of thing is happening now: the 2,000 qualified technicians I spoke about are all in manufacturers’ dealerships. The Minister is right that we need to determine how we can spread and deepen the skills base.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West has decided that if there is to be an accreditation and licensing scheme, it should have a title just as catchy as CORGI—which is no longer used; it is now called Gas Safe. He came up with “Member of the National Generic Register of Electric Vehicle Licensees”, which comes out as MONGREL. My hon. Friend has many talents, but I gently put it to him that working out the names and acronyms for accreditation for a skill set and array of qualifications in occupations that we want to promote is probably not his strong suit.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I must confess to a certain disappointment. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West has become my principal advocate in the House, I rather hoped that he might weave my name into the new qualification.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister should not have tempted him. He will be working hard on it.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend says he will take a leaf out of the Minister’s book. Although it will not be on the record of this Committee, it might end up on the face of the Bill.

Labour Members feel strongly about this issue. I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance that he is thinking about it and is engaging with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and with the Automotive Council to see what role they might play in developing such accreditation. We are still keen to see something about it in the Bill if possible. I accept that the new clause, as it stands, may not be exactly the right way to do so, but we would still like something in the Bill. We will think about it before Report, and I ask the Minister to do so as well. If there is consensus about doing something along these lines, let us put it in the Bill. For now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 8