73.The Department has said its proposed consultation is intended to consider necessary changes to legislation and guidance, to bring it into line with developments in the sector and the relevant European Regulations. While there was broad acceptance that a level of change had become necessary, a range of witnesses were concerned that, by issuing its letter of 31 July and note to local authorities of 9 November, the Department had in effect pre-judged the outcome. There was also widespread concern that the Department had still not fully explained the legal background, or fully understood the likely impacts of its proposals. For example, Peter Shelley, Head of Passenger Transport at Hampshire County Council, which is considered an exemplar for effective community transport provision, said:
My concern is that the letter that came out on 9 November talks about CT operators making urgent progress towards transitioning to a new arrangement. […] I fear that what we will do is drive out a sector for which we have no alternative, and we will have a smaller level of demand using commercial providers. There are people who are now travelling for whom we will not be able to provide journeys. I certainly hope that the consultation looks at something appropriate for the sector, which is not a one-size-fits-all driver CPC, and so on.”
Leon Daniels, Transport for London’s Managing Director of Surface Transport, emphasised that a rush to implement a new system could have dire consequences for people who rely on CT services. He said:
Some of my dial-a-ride passengers only see other human beings outside their houses when they go on their dial-a-ride trip. They book trips to Tesco to have a cup of coffee and buy a couple of items. The social interaction on the journey and at their destination is of great importance to them. Therefore, if the sector were to be driven out of business, both the dial-a-ride services that we provide and the services that they provide using the money they have gained from the contracts, consistent with their charitable objectives in their communities for getting people about, would not happen, and that would be a great pity for society generally.”
CTOs also stressed the wider social value of their work, and the duties of those commissioning public services to have regard to it, as set out in the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012.
74.The Minister told us he intended to take account of the evidence to our inquiry, and publish the Department’s consultation before Christmas. We urged him to also take into account our recommendations before settling on the consultation’s scope.
75.While the Department has been forced to act under the threat of imminent legal action, its consultation should avoid a narrow, legalistic focus on bringing UK guidance and legislation into line with relevant EU Regulations. The consultation must also be used as an opportunity to consider reforms designed not only to achieve compatibility, but also to maintain achievement of the key public policy objective—the provision of high quality, safe and secure community transport services for people who might otherwise be left isolated. Protection of these services, the huge majority of which are uncontested, and by definition cannot be provided by commercial operators, is imperative.
76.We welcome the Minister’s commitment to maintain the community transport permit system, and the 9 November proposals to achieve this. Given the current level of paralysis in the community transport sector, we recommend the Department publish its consultation as soon as practicable, but it must include within its scope:
77.In the context of exiting the European Union, we recommend the Department for Transport, alongside its forthcoming consultation, begin to consider longer term legislative change to maintain and foster the UK’s unique approach to community transport.
73 See, for example, Mobility Matters (); Ealing Community Transport ()
13 December 2017