People are at the heart of Community Transport – the people who rely on the sector’s services and the people who work so hard to keep its wheels turning every single day.
It’s vital that Community Transport operators are able to recruit, train and retain the people they need to continue to deliver lifeline transport services for urban, rural and island communities across Scotland. Without the right staff and volunteers with the right knowledge and skills, Community Transport’s ability to support more than 802,000 Scottish passengers to access amenities, education, employment and public services like hospitals, GP surgeries and Job Centres every year could be under threat.
That’s why we welcomed the opportunity to participate in the independent review of Scotland’s skills delivery landscape being conducted by James Withers, former Chief Executive of National Farmers Union (NFU) Scotland and Scotland Food & Drink, and now advisor to the Scottish Government, for Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Higher Education, Further Education, Youth Employment & Training. We’ve engaged with online workshops and submitted a written response (which you can download here) to the call for evidence which was issued in late October 2022 and closed just before Christmas.
The independent review represents an important opportunity for reform of our skills system, which Withers describes as a ‘complex web of touch-points that help us develop the skills we need throughout our lives’ – including apprenticeships, National Occupational Standards, reskilling, careers advice and employer support.
We want the conclusions and recommendations of the review to recognise that transport, especially Community Transport, plays a key role in facilitating skills delivery by supporting workers and learners to access colleges, universities and workplaces, especially in rural areas lacking other public transport options. More than 1 in 10 Community Transport operators in Scotland also deliver school transport services.
We know from the data in our More Than a Minibus report that the Community Transport sector is a significant actor in Scotland’s transport system – over 170 operators delivered more than 890,000 journeys over 5.18 million miles in 2021– and in the Scottish economy – creating over 1,130 jobs and more than 2,000 volunteering opportunities. Our response also notes the important contribution of operators and CTA to upskilling and reskilling through the delivery of training, such as MiDAS, to drivers, passenger assistants and other roles.
But it’s also clear from our research, as well as our ongoing conversations with CTA members, that many operators are facing serious financial challenges as inflation bites and growing shortages of drivers and volunteers as the labour market tightens.
43% of Community Transport operators in Scotland report worsening levels of volunteer recruitment and 92% have been unable to recruit young volunteers recently. Meanwhile, 1 in 2 are experiencing rising demand for existing services and more than 2 in 3 want to expand.
Other parts of the transport sector (particularly the bus and haulage industries) are facing not dissimilar challenges, but small, non-profit Community Transport operators generally cannot compete with the higher salaries on offer from large, for-profit businesses.
16% of CTA members are Living Wage-accredited (which is significantly higher than the overall proportion of employers across all sectors of the Scottish economy), but many other operators are surviving on shoestring budgets and cannot afford to boost wages or even take on paid staff in the midst of what SCVO has called the voluntary sector’s ‘running costs crisis’.
But the Scottish Government has a role to play too – firstly, by supporting our campaigns for these progressive reforms; secondly, by delivering fair, multi-year funding with inflationary uplifts; and, thirdly, through better recognition of the role and value of volunteering in skills delivery and development.
Despite the fact that 71% of volunteers gain new skills and experiences, volunteering is neither a priority nor a consideration for Scotland’s skills agencies. For example, Skills Development Scotland’s new Strategic Plan 2022-2027 does not contain a single mention of volunteering.
Volunteering should be a strategic priority in Scotland’s national approach to skills. Our skills agencies should have a remit to support all skills delivery and development, whether it takes place through education, employment or volunteering.
The Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland and employers should all strengthen recognition of the role and value of volunteering in building confidence and developing new skills to enable people to thrive in the world of work. They should work more closely with local voluntary organisations, such as through Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV).
Scotland’s transition to net zero will be a major challenge for our skills delivery landscape. Just Transition Plans are to be developed by the Scottish Government to set out how key sectors will ensure their workforce has the green skills they need for the future. As Scotland’s largest emitting sector, we believe it is essential that there is a Just Transition Plan for Transport.
The Community Transport sector is already leading the way to net zero with over 12% of Scotland’s fleet now electric or hybrid and increasing numbers of drivers with training and experience of Electric Vehicles. It’s time to accelerate that progress. The Scottish Government should work with CTA and other stakeholders to develop a Just Transition Plan for the whole of the transport sector which will meet all of our future labour and skills needs, tackle driver shortages across operators and develop a workforce fit for purpose for net zero.
Please download our consultation response here to read our written evidence in full.
As ever, whether you’re a CTA member or one of our stakeholders, we’d love to hear your feedback. You can reach me via email@example.com.
Community Transport Association UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Cardiff no. 1985361 Registered office: 12 Hilton Street M1 1JF. Registered as a charity in England and Wales no. 1002222. Charity Registered in Scotland No. SC038518.