Driving instructors

Driving school instructors say they are struggling to survive and have been ‘completely ignored’ in Wales lockdown exit plan

Driving instructors in Wales have said they are struggling to make a living and have been ‘totally ignored’ in Wales’ plan to get out of lockdown.

Under the current level four restrictions in Wales, driving lessons and testing are not permitted, with the exception of limited emergency testing for people who need to drive as part of their job.

The rules have meant that thousands of people across the country have been unable to take classes or have seen tests delayed or canceled in recent months.

And some have claimed they have been left behind by government plans to ease restrictions, which include dates for reopening tourism and non-essential retail. Read all the key dates here.

But no date has been set for resuming driving lessons and most drivers have not been able to teach for three months.

Andy Stoneley, 35, is a qualified driving instructor at M4 Driving School in Newport.

He said drivers in Wales had been left in the dark without even a rough date to return to work.

“We have been virtually unable to work at all since Wales was stranded in December,” he explained.

“Normally I worked five or six days a week, teaching three or four people a day. I haven’t taught anyone since December.”

Although Andy is self-employed, he did not work long enough to qualify for government support programs.

” I could not [qualify], but luckily I was able to get universal credit.

“But what I get is less than half of my monthly salary.

“It was very difficult. I have a wife and three children and we had to scratch, sleuth and really cut down on pretty much anything that isn’t a necessity. We also had to rely on our two money. parents. “

Andy Stoneley, 35, is a driving instructor for the M4 Driving School in Newport and says he hasn’t been able to work since December.

Andy added: “What I find confusing is you can go have your hair cut, have your hair dyed, everything. If you want to go to the barber, that also means you can get on a bus. or take a taxi to get there.

“I don’t see how getting a haircut is more important than learning to drive, and I can’t understand how it hasn’t been classified as an essential service.

“It’s very boring and confusing that you can be a doctor, or someone in training to be a paramedic, or join the police, who have to learn to drive but you can’t.

“This is absolute madness.”

Asked about the conduct at last week’s press conference, Prime Minister Mark Drakeford said: ‘The advice we have at this point is that it is not safe to resume.

“It’s a confined space for a long period of time and things are not yet good enough that we can say they can pick up.”

Andy said he feels the industry is being treated differently from other close contact services.

“We are professionals ourselves and have put safety measures in place since the very beginning of the pandemic, such as additional cleaning of vehicles,” he said.

“We believe that we are not treated the same as other industries.”

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Andy said that the fact that there was no indication of when the driving schools could resume teaching was his main frustration.

In England, the British government has said classes could resume on April 12 and testing could resume from April 22.

“It’s not like I’m asking for an exact date when we can return home. But in England they have a roadmap to get a feel for when that might happen.

“If our government said something similar and gave an approximate date by which they could review it – but we weren’t even told,” Andy added.

“We had no maybe, no certainty. Nothing. Just that they’ll look at it in the next review.”

Andy said they were disappointed that driving lessons weren’t mentioned at all during the government’s review of the lockdown restrictions last week.

“We assumed we would be able to reopen on March 15, but upon the announcement we were completely ignored.

“The Prime Minister was asked about it and he didn’t even bother to answer the question directly.

“I’m at a point where we’re eating away at our savings, and we can’t go on for long without me on the road.”

It was not just the drivers who were affected. Many people who relied heavily on cars found themselves stranded and without pockets as a result of the lockdown.

Suzanne Phillips-Newman, 38, lives in Newport. She suffers from reduced mobility issues and is part of the UK Motability Scheme which allows her to receive a car and funding to learn to drive.

Although she cannot take lessons during the lockdown, Suzanne still sees the car deducted from her benefits, meaning she loses almost £ 250 each month.

“To qualify for the courses you have to already have a car, so I have it, but obviously I couldn’t take a course or an exam,” she said.

“I could have waited but had to order a car to take the lessons, but now I can’t get them anymore. The car is just sitting there, unless I can find someone to sit on the floor. passenger seat for me to drive but there isn’t always someone available. “

Suzanne said she had had her theory test canceled “five or six times” and had to pay for a taxi from Newport to Cardiff for hospital appointments on several occasions because no one was available to take him away.

“It’s £ 25 anyway,” she said. “This is ridiculous, because there is obviously a huge risk factor to be seated in a taxi with two different drivers on the outward and return journey.

“I have underlying issues which mean if I catch Covid I’m dead. I’m playing with my life getting in taxis and paying for a car that I can’t use at the same time.”

Suzanne said she also had to rely on others for her daily chores, such as shopping for groceries, and added that not being able to drive also affected her mental health.

“For me, the idea of ​​having a car is for independence. Part of what I struggle with is mental health, and not having it has had a really negative effect on me mentally.

“It’s a vicious cycle – it’s a bit of an insult because I personally can’t see the harm in a driving lesson.

“I recently had to go to a hospital appointment and as the taxi stopped at the traffic lights I could see a hairdresser, and most of the people there weren’t wearing masks.

“I was like ‘wait a minute – they can cut people’s hair like that but I can’t sit in the car with my driving instructor?

“Something has to be done about it.”

Zieda Mohsen, 21, works as a nursing aide in Newport. She was supposed to take her driving test this week, but had it canceled due to the pandemic and did not postpone it.

“I work nights and have to pay up to £ 350 a month for a taxi to work,” she said. “It takes a huge amount of my salary.”

“I was learning to drive before confinement and my exam should have taken place today but it was canceled. I haven’t heard anything since.”

Zieda said she often had to go to work to take a Covid test even on days off, which meant spending even more.

“I want the driving instructors to go back to work. You see hairdressers opening up – I just don’t get it. That would drive you crazy.”

A demonstration of driving school instructors will take place this Friday in Newport, Swansea and Llanelli to seek clarification on when lessons and testing can resume in Wales.

The event in Newport will begin at Newport Stadium in the Newport Sports Village between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. and will pass through Tredegar Park, SDR and through downtown before looping back to finish at the stadium.

Luke Thompson, 37, of Newport, is a driving instructor and general manager of M4 Motoring Driving School, which has 42 franchise driving instructors on their records.

Luke is helping organize Friday’s protest and said he is urging the government to clarify the situation for the industry, while stressing that waiting lists in many areas are fully filled for the next few months.

He said: “We would like a date that we can come back to.

“It is disappointing that the Prime Minister and other ministers do not consider driving essential when I cannot think of an industry that does not depend on driving to function.”

Luke Thompson, Principal of the M4 Driving School in Newport

“We thought we would be back on March 15th, and if we had followed December’s advice, we would be in level two or three.

“We could teach the same 15 people a year, but again you have open hairdressers who could see 15 people a day.

“There are so many people who can’t get permits that need them. I have a few nurses and caregivers who spend a fortune on taxis and as it is, most of the testing centers there are. included in Newport, you can’t even book a driving test because the waiting lists are full. “

Andy Stoneley added: “Newport was lucky before the lockdown you were maybe only waiting five or six weeks for a test so that was less than the national average.

“There is a girl I know who lives in a rural area and needs to be able to drive. She was due to take her exam in December, then it was postponed to February. Now she’s looking at July.

“I don’t know how they’re going to clear the backlog. I don’t see that happening in a year.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We realize that these times continue to be incredibly difficult for the people of Wales and appreciate the frustration of those affected by the disrupted services.

“If the public health situation continues to improve, we may further ease the restrictions in the coming weeks, and as part of this, we will consider the best time to resume driving lessons and tests. “