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

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 11:45, 23 March 2017

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.