Recap: Coronavirus Advice Drop-in Session 27 March
by Gemma Lelliott
Support and Engagement Executive, South Wales
As the situation around coronavirus, develops we want to make sure that our members can access the guidance they need to understand any actions or precautions they might need to take. We’re regularly publishing and updating important guidance for the community transport sector which you can find on our main guidance page at ctauk.org/covid19-guidance/.
As well as this, you can also contact the CTA advice service if you need any further information, or have any more questions. The CTA team are currently working remotely, so to ensure you speak to the right person first time, please email email@example.com receive a call back for advice and support. Our advice service operates 10:00-4:00 Monday-Friday.
Our weekly advice service drop-ins
To help support our members throughout this difficult time, we’re also holding an ‘Advice Service Drop-in’ on a weekly basis. This is an opportunity for you to share how you are being affected by the situation, to ask any questions you may have and to talk to other members about how they’re coping. Whilst we may not have all the answers, we will continue to seek clarity and guidance from the relevant bodies on your behalf and these conversations will inform what we’re doing at CTA to support you.
For those unable to make it, we will be sharing a summary of the points that are discussed during the sessions, including any best-practice or advice from other CTA members that they share during the call.
Last week’s call
To frame last week’s call, we sent the following to members
If you’re a community transport provider who relies heavily on income from fares, BSSG, and BSOG claims to keep your operations afloat, the dramatic reduction in passenger numbers will be severely affecting your cashflow. For many who deliver services on contracts for things like home-to-school transport and social services support, you are also probably seeing varying approaches from commissioners. If this is you, we would like you to join us on Friday’s call.
This session will enable us to learn more about the issues you’re facing and where you need us to help most so we can best represent you and the sector. With your input, we can build a more accurate picture of how these changes are affecting community transport. Civil servants in governments across the UK are keen to listen to what CT needs, and providing them with this information will help ensure that we can deliver community transport long into the future.
Despite a few technical issues (we’re all still learning how to navigate working remotely!) we were pleased to welcome a group of eight operators from around the country to the call. With a real spread of operating styles, from smaller community car schemes, to services with small fleets and a mix of volunteers and paid staff, through to larger operators with substantial fleets and a paid workforce, it was great to have input from such a wide range of organisations.
We’ve summarised the discussion into some of the key themes that emerged during the call:
There has been some variety in how different areas across the UK are responding to deliver support light of social distancing measures, with some communities taking the lead themselves and others pursuing a more coordinated approach led by local government colleagues.
Members mentioned the development of community hubs or local resilience forums – groups of organisations and volunteers who have come together to deliver focused support in their local communities. While in some areas the local government-led hubs have meant that support has been a little slower to get going, we’re now seeing that CT operators are providing a wide range of support to these community hubs which are developing in their area. Partnership with local community transport providers is proving extremely valuable to the communities they serve.
Several members told us that they’ve negotiated use of the supermarkets’ ‘vulnerable hour’ to provide a coordinated shop and drop service not only to their existing passengers but also to other vulnerable residents in the same area. By providing letters to their staff and volunteers which confirm they are key workers (supported by name badges and high vis jackets where possible), they have been able to overcome any issues around perceived stockpiling of products and ensure that service users are able to get the shopping they need in a safe way. Anna Whitty from Ealing CT suggested that if other operators are looking to do the same, getting shared branding on the letters between the operator and the community hub would be useful when negotiating this with your local supermarket.
What can/can’t I do?
Are my services essential? Should I still be delivering dial-a-ride? Can I take passengers to a funeral? At CTA, we’re doing our best to bring together all the information and resources we find to keep our members up to date, but with the situation changing so rapidly and guidance being updated all the time, it can often be easy for members miss some advice or to feel unclear about what does/doesn’t apply to them. You can find all of our latest guidance at ctauk.org/covid19-guidance/ and we’re emailing members and promoting on social media whenever we update it. The other really useful link that was suggested by members on the call was to sign up to the government’s advice updates via email here.
Cashflow is a concern for many of our members, particularly as we move into April and beyond. In our call, we heard about finance companies proactively offering payment holidays on recently purchased vehicles and councils opting to pay 100% of contracts, which have both made a very real difference to operators. Could you contact your finance provider to request a payment holiday? Are you able to speak to your Council contact about any contracts you would normally be delivering? Would your landlord be in a position to waive rent in the short term?
We heard that having that assured cashflow coming through organisations has meant that operators are better placed to be able to support their communities on the ground, developing prescription services, shopping, or even being able to support hospitals with the transfer of patients.
One of the themes that came out very strongly in the chat was innovation. We all know how creative the CT sector is and this was reinforced so strongly last Friday! We heard about wellbeing calls and a ‘virtual bus’ where passengers will be connected with the friends they regularly travel with. It’s easy to forget that many don’t have the technology or the skills to be able to use virtual meetings over zoom or whatsapp – so operators are finding ways to overcome these barriers and get people in touch with each other. With regular bus journeys forming a huge part of many passengers’ social lives, it was wonderful to hear about initiatives like this to help people to stay connected with their friends.
In a similar vein, we also heard about CTs providing regular passengers with entertainment such as puzzles, crosswords and quizzes, and one plan for an open-air church service with the bus tail lift replacing the pulpit for the sermon! Others are offering their empty break rooms for the use of emergency services personnel, and offering of counselling services (formal and informal) for those passengers, staff and volunteers who are struggling to cope. We’re living through extraordinary times and facing challenges and difficulties none of us could have anticipated, but I was filled with hope and positivity by the way our members – even the ones who have had no choice but to stop operating in the short term – have risen to the challenge and are demonstrating every day how essential community transport is.
Thank you so much to everyone who joined us for the call on Friday and for the resources and templates you sent over, which you can find below. If you weren’t able to join us but you’ve got a template/document/ideas you’d like to share please let us know in the comments and a member of the team will get in-touch.
Resources shared at the meeting
Key worker letter:shared by Ealing Community Transport, this is the letter they have been giving their staff to show that they are key workers.
The next drop-in will be on Friday 3rd April, from 11am – 12pm. If you would like to join, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Covid-19 weekly drop-in’. You can also email our advice team if you would like any support or if you would like to share with us how COVID-19 is impacting your organisation.
You can also contact the CTA advice service if you need any further information. The CTA team are currently working remotely, so to ensure you speak to the right person first time, please email email@example.com receive a call back.
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