Parliament has launched an inquiry into community transport in the United Kingdom.

The Transport Committee is launching a new inquiry into the licensing arrangements for community transport minibuses and the broader sustainability of the community transport sector, which provides essential access to transport to many vulnerable and potentially isolated people.

Inquiry background

Community transport operators range from small community groups with a single vehicle to large community transport organisations (CTOs), whose sole purpose is the provision of transport services, often delivered through competitively tendered contracts with local authorities. Services include school, hospital and residential care transport, dial-a-ride services for disabled people, and rural, non-commercially viable community minibuses.

The outcome of a recent Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) investigation into the licensing arrangements of an individual CTO, and the Department for Transport’s (DfT) response, indicates a new approach to the longstanding arrangements for the licensing of CTOs and their drivers, with potentially significant effects on the sector.

Here is our response:

Voluntary Action Stratford on Avon District (VASA) are based in Warwickshire and deliver car only community transport to just under 3000 people living in the area (S. Warwickshire). We also offer carer respite day services and community groups, wheelchair loans and group activities.  Most of the people we transport are over 60 years old.

Our volunteer led community transport service started over 30 years ago and is managed by 2, part-time staff and c200 volunteers from the community.

Initially, we only catered for medical journeys.  We now undertake c27 000 journeys a year that allow our residents to access GP surgeries, Carer Respite Day Services, clinics, dentists, podiatrists, and many other health based services in the area. More recently we have added social inclusion and rural inclusion journeys as our mission is to help alleviate loneliness and isolation to promote wellbeing and independent living in the area.

We welcome the inquiry as it will bring recognition of a vital public service that is growing daily as more mainstream services are reduced or more expensive and sometimes, inaccessible ones, introduced.

Like many others in England, our District will see an increased need for community transport as our older population is projected to increase significantly, with the number of residents aged 90+ years projected to increase by 264% by 2039. We anticipate a significant increase in uptake from local residents for our – and others – community transport services.

It is clear to us even as a small provider, that the UK seems unique in providing volunteer led community transport.  While we whole heartedly support the CTA and recognise that the main issue of this inquiry concerns funding from stakeholders and the ability of any member state from the EU to bid for the contracts even within community transport in the UK, we cannot help but wonder if this has more to do with Brexit.

Perhaps instead of ‘wanting to take community transport out of the game altogether’ we should be looking at a more integrated approach between mainstream services and community transport. However, if we’re intent on levelling the playing field in terms of funding, let’s ensure that the nonprofits get a fair chance at the pot before it is awarded to more commercially oriented organisations.  After all, isn’t this about ‘community’?

Many of us fulfil local authority contracts and we must comply with tendering and reporting requirements as would any contractor. In our experience, this is becoming stricter and less of an option for small organisations like our own to be able to rely on this type of funding. Yet we should always be a priority option as we, like many others, are a charity that offer a wide variety of services that fill the gaps left in social care services in our district. Surely that has worth?

At the moment, charities like our own are not affected as we operate volunteer drivers using their own cars, however we are aware that once changes are agreed upon, our continuity of service delivery could be affected.

I have attached research we undertook in July 2017 that clearly shows the impact community transport has in our district.

We support the CTA’s desire to see ‘action to recognise and protect the distinctiveness of community transport services and the distinct social value they deliver’, and await the results of the inquiry.

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