Transport Select Committee inquiry into licencing arrangements for Community Transport
by Bill Freeman
This morning the Transport Committee in the UK Parliament launched an inquiry into the licencing arrangements for community transport in the light of the Department for Transport’s (DfT) 31 July letter on Section 19/22 permits and driver licencing.
Please note that this is not the DfT’s consultation, however it does provide an opportunity to look more broadly at many of the background issues that led to the proposed revision to guidance from DfT.
Here Bill Freeman, CTA’s Chief Executive, give’s his take on today’s announcement:
We have a problem in this country that many MPs will be aware of, which is about the quality, availability and affordability of transport options for people that can’t drive and don’t have access to a conventional bus service, especially in rural areas.
Community transport is a uniquely British solution to that problem because it comes from the community and it involves people doing things for themselves and their neighbours. We believe there is a cross-party consensus on the value of community transport and we look forward to seeing this come to the fore in this inquiry that has been launched by the Transport Committee in the UK Parliament.
In this blog I am going to look at the five parts which make up the Inquiry’s terms of reference and offer some immediate observations.
The effectiveness of the DfT, DVSA and Traffic Commissioners’ guidance to, and regulation of, community transport
For three decades we have had a regulatory settlement in this country which has served us well in enabling community transport to deliver its services safely and legally using special permits, enjoying the confidence of regulators, commissioners, and operators and, most crucially, our passengers.
CTOs have worked in good faith to guidance throughout this time and there has been no change in the law on which this guidance is based. However we now find ourselves with a proposal to revise the guidance to include a different view of the law which breaks with that previously held consensus.
The grounds for making these changing are poorly understood within our sector and the wider policy community. Many are asking whether its worth all the upheaval to satisfy the European Commission and why this is based on a partisan view of the intended meaning of certain phrases that feel a long way from discussing the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.
My hope it that this Inquiry provides us with another chance to explain how we work and to consider why this change in guidance is going to be problematic. This should help shape everyone’s ideas prior to the DfT’s own consultation later in the autumn.
The effects on commercial operators
We don’t shy away from a conversation about a level-playing field, but so much of what we’ve seen from the nature and tone of threats and legal challenges in recent years suggests that some want to take community transport out of the game altogether.
Although we fill gaps left by mainstream services, our sector cannot survive and thrive if it is only allowed to do things that commercial companies say should be left to us because there is no money to be made. We accept there needs to be a better understanding of when there needs to be parity between different types of operators and also accept this cannot all be on our own terms, so let’s see what comes up in the Inquiry.
The potential effects in the short and longer term of different types of CTOs
This permit system and the vital services they enable were invented to meet the needs that bus companies can’t or won’t meet, so there are big questions and a lot of concerns about forcing these charities to lose their distinctiveness from bus companies. It is also very hard for me to see a great number who will benefit from these changes, but the cliff face for its potential losers is all too obvious.
We suspect we are talking about risks to the continuity of hundreds of charities that employ thousands of people and serve tens of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens that rely on community transport to have a decent quality of life and feel that they belong.
The safety, security and service quality implications of licensing via such permits
Our sector has always set high standards for itself and invested in this, which is why community transport isn’t always the cheapest option for getting a well-run service.
Nowhere in anything we have seen from the Department for Transport have they expressed concerns that the permit regime provides a lower level of protection for passengers.
There is no evidence that passengers are any less safe in a vehicle using one of these permits. They still have to comply with rules on road worthiness and maintenance and their drivers must be trained, Interestingly the most commonly used training for community transport, MiDAS, is better than the statutory requirements because it includes an on-road test which is assessed and people can fail if they can’t show how they reach the required standards.
Suggested approaches to the funding, commissioning and licensing of community transport
We especially welcome the committee’s focus on this. The focal point for challenges against community transport and these proposed changes has been what rules operators should follow when fulfilling local authority contracts.
Many CTOs fulfil local authority contracts, often awarded through competitive tendering. However, fulfilling these contracts is not a deviation from their core charitable purpose and they provide vital resources to enable so much more to happen in social value terms beyond the scope of the contract itself. It has much more to do changing fashions in how local government pays for things to happen, even when there is no obvious contestable market.
We want to see action to recognise and protect the distinctiveness of community transport services and the distinct social value they deliver. This requires a rethink on how transport services are commissioned to prioritise the creation of ‘social goods’ and reduce the reliance on procurement through tendering as a crude ‘one size fits all’ way of meeting more peoples’ needs.
We strongly encourage all community transport operators and those who support and care about what they do to get involved through submitting a response and working with us to strengthen our collective voice. If you are planning to respond and want to work alongside CTA on this, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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.