Community Transport Raised at Transport Questions (10 January 2019)
14th January 2019
Last week’s Transport Questions, where Members of the UK Parliament get an opportunity to ask questions of the Department for Transport’s ministerial team, saw lively exchanges about the importance of community transport and the future of the Government’s consultation on the use of section 19 and 22 permits.
The exchange was started with a scheduled question by Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North, followed by questions from: Martin Vickers, Conservative MP for Cleethorpes; Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield; Robert Courts, Conservative MP for Witney and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Community Transport; Drew Hendry, SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strasthspey; and Matt Rodda, Labour MP for Reading East, all of whom spoke in support of community transport.
The questions were answered by Nusrat Ghani MP, Under Secretary of State for Transport.
Of particular interest was the Minister’s response to Robert Courts who asked when we can expect a full Government response to 2018’s consultation on the future of section 19 and 22 permits. The Minister replied:
“Those are two very important permits, and I know that they have previously caused some anxiety in the sector. Of course, we carried out a consultation. I want to make sure that we respond appropriately, which is why we will take our time to make sure we get it absolutely right. It is important to note that we are working with community transport operators and the Community Transport Association, which receives a substantial amount of funding from us. It is important to note that the status quo as it is today for community transport operators continues.”
As we’ve mentioned before, this is another example of a change in in the Department’s language and framing of the issue, which suggests that their final guidance may take account of the compelling case we all made in the consultation and be better than was originally set out it their July 2017 letter and consultation document. Until we receive their final response however, that is just speculation, but their statements in recent months have marked a notable change in tone and it is important that the Minister has again reiterated that the status quo should continue. There is currently no concrete indication of when their final response is likely to be released, but when it is we’ll be in touch with our members and supporters via email and on our blog.
You can find a full transcript of the questions and the responses from the Minister below.
You can also access them via Hansard here.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
What steps his Department is taking to support community transport operators. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Nusrat Ghani)
The services run by community transport operators are of vital importance to our transport sector and communities. During the most recent financial year, the Government supported community transport operators with almost £3.1 million through the bus service operators grant. A number of projects from the £11.5 million building connections fund will also provide new community transport links to support those most at risk of isolation.
That is a tiny amount to invest in community transport. My constituency is largely rural, and people in our villages—particularly older people—are left isolated because profit-making bus companies are not interested in serving them. There is some community provision, but very little funding. Will the Minister offer my isolated communities some comfort and commit more money to that sector, either directly or through the combined authority?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that community transport operators, even within his own community, opened a new service as recently as a few months ago, with extra support from the Department and the bus service operators grant fund. I looked on his local council website to check what was happening with community transport, and there was a reference to the funding that the Department for Transport had provided. The council said that the excellent public community transport in the borough was being provided by funding provided by the Department for Transport.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
Until recently, the No. 5 bus service that passes through South Killingholme in my constituency was supported by a Government grant. The local authority is making provision for community transport to provide an alternative, but it will not replace the existing service. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss whether other funding streams can be found to support the service?
My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for his constituency. I am not exactly sure which funding stream he is talking about, but let us sit down and talk about it, and see what we can do.
Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
Meadowgreen health centre in Sheffield is moving, leaving the entire Lowedges estate completely unconnected to its GP surgery. Does the Minister agree that, under such circumstances, passenger authorities should be required to consult on bus routes to ensure that they are connected to GP surgeries? Will she write to South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive to ensure that it does just that?
The hon. Lady raises two very important issues. I will meet her to see what I can do to help out. She is right that if bus services are being changed, there needs to be communication with not only the traffic commissioner, but the local community. I am more than happy to sit down with her to see what is happening.
Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
When can we expect a full Government response on the sections 19 and 22 permits?
Those are two very important permits, and I know that they have previously caused some anxiety in the sector. Of course, we carried out a consultation. I want to make sure that we respond appropriately, which is why we will take our time to make sure we get it absolutely right. It is important to note that we are working with community transport operators and the Community Transport Association, which receives a substantial amount of funding from us. It is important to note that the status quo as it is today for community transport operators continues.
Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
What steps is he taking to ensure that community transport groups will not require a licence when the Government align sections 19 and 22 permits with EU regulations? The proposals that went out for consultation still carry a risk that small and medium-sized groups will need to pay in the range of £80,000 to £100,000, which would lead to the widespread disruption of those services. Does the Minister understand those risks?
I no doubt do not need to point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am a she, not a he, but no matter.
We are very supportive of community transport operators, which was why the consultation was so important. We will make sure that our response actually fits the fantastic voluntary work that takes place within our community transport network.
Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
Community transport is a lifeline for many older or disabled people who would otherwise be trapped in their own homes, yet the Government propose to introduce a significant and unwanted extra burden on the charities that run those vital services. Age UK has reported that the majority of its community transport services would be forced to close because of the Government’s mistaken proposals. Will the Minister commit to reconsidering her approach and to working with, rather than against, the charities that run those vital services?
I am a little confused by the hon. Gentleman’s statement, because the Government are yet to put out our response. We are working with the charities sector, including with the Community Transport Association and community transport operators. There is an EU regulation that we are trying to make this fit into, but we are committed to ensuring that our community transport operators continue to operate. That is why we have the £3 million fund and the £11.5 million building connections fund.
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Douglas George Gray
In Suffolk and Norfolk County Council cuts are having a direct effect on commercial bus services serving Halesworth, Southwold, Bungay to and from Norwich (main shopping centre for this region, and educational facilities/hospitals). Local people disadvantaged by these cost cutting measures want local voluntary Community transport organisations to make up the shortfall but NO FUNDS are being offered and Government action to recognise MiDAS trained drivers as an alternative to fully qualified bus drivers when driving Community minibuses is not being properly considered in the DfT reviews.