Almost everyone who came to the Community Transport Association’s Westminster Conference last Wednesday shared the same last leg of the journey. Stepping out of Westminster tube station, the first thing they would have seen was Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Parliament Square: the centre of the UK’s legislative world.
It was in the Houses of Parliament, that very day, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was setting out his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, something which will have a direct effect on our members and community transport as a whole.
It was only fitting, then, that when our attendees took the short walk past Parliament Square to One Great George Street, they arrived for a day of discussion with those from inside government, the transport and voluntary sectors on the future of community transport.
If you didn’t get a chance to make it to the conference, or would like to re-live the day from the comfort of your computer, we’ve put together a blog for each session that will take you through the conference.
This first blog looks at the ‘Reimagining Local Transport’ session, sharing the speakers’ slides and presentations in their entirety.
You will also find blogs for ‘Transport Innovation’ and ‘The Future of Community Transport Regulation’ when they’re published in the coming days.
Reimagining Local Transport
The day’s proceedings started off with the Chair of the CTA Stephen Hickey and Chief Executive Bill Freeman welcoming everyone to the event and introducing the day’s first speaker: Graham Pendlebury, Director of Local Transport at the Department for Transport (DfT).
Graham’s presentation focused on letting attendees know what the DfT’s policy perspectives were for 2015 and how they would affect community transport. After laying out specific and detailed figures, which can be found in the slides below, Graham talked about how community transport was a vital lifeline across the UK, supporting the most vulnerable in society. He discussed how CT operators have a compelling story and one which we have to tell to local leaders, ministers and public officials in a language they appreciate.
Following Graham, Bill Freeman introduced Gareth Blackett, the CTA’s Director of Policy and Practice, who introduced the panel for the first session on reimagining local transport: Cllr Peter Box, David McNeill and Luke Raikes.
Councillor Peter Box
The first member of the panel to speak was Councillor Peter Box, Leader of Wakefield Council and the Chair of the Local Government Association’s Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board. He set out to discuss what the future of local and community transport looks like from the perspective of local government. Peter mentioned that unless we change the way we deliver transport in rural areas, there may be no effective transport within five years, something that central and local government, along with community transport operators, need to work together to avoid.
“We need to make sure there is joined up thinking” he said, championing the Total Transport scheme that is currently in its pilot stage. Peter told the conference that the LGA is keen to work with the CTA and all of its members to make sure that we can address the problem of a lack of rural transport and make sure that everyone who needs transport can have access to it.
Following Peter was David McNeill, Director of Public Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at Transport for London (TfL). David talked about London’s experience with devolution and how its status as an integrated transport authority has enabled it to provide high quality and accessible transport for Londoners. David discussed how having control of the “right levers” meant that Transport for London had developed as system which has kept London working, growing and made it a better place to live. Having control of these levers at a local level, he argued, and doing what works for your community is vital: “If it doesn’t work for your area,” he said, “it doesn’t work.”
Regarding community transport, David told the conference that TfL wanted to use their resources to make life easier for those in London who use community transport services. Those who use CT, he said, should have access to the same support and customer service as those who use any other transport in London. TfL are currently working with London Councils to get those who use CT to be able to access the same online and customer service resources provided by TfL with the aim of making community transport easier and more accessible. “If we can work with the commercial sector to run our buses,” he said, “why can’t we work with the community and voluntary sector to run our community transport services?”
The ability to create a more accessible and inclusive transport system in London, and across the country, he argued, requires integration and cooperation and the ability to act independently in your own locality. “That’s why devolution matters” David said, “It allows you to pull the right levers to make wider decisions in a sensible way, closer to the ground.”
Luke Raikes, IPPR
Rounding off the panel was Luke Raikes, a research fellow at the IPPR North. Luke started his talk by noting that there was significant overlap between what he wanted to say and what had already been discussed so far. That the DfT, the LGA and the IPPR “are all singing from the same hymn sheet” said Luke, can only be a good thing!
Luke’s presentation reiterated the importance of busses in the local community: how they underpin economic and social priorities such as giving people access to work; supporting the local economy; and connecting people to local services. Cuts in bus services leave people disconnected, Luke argued. In order to make sure that communities have the services they need, we have to combine public and private sector resources to take a new approach, allowing social values rather than profit to be at the heart of bus services.
Total Transport, Luke argued, was a good example of the innovation that was going on in the transport sector. By having local governments in towns and rural areas combing forces to build new total transport authorities, they can pool the revenue and capital to make bus services work better in more rural areas.
“We still have to convince many politicians”, Luke said, that bus services and Total Transport should be made a core priority of local and central government. “The buses bill needs to recognise all of the above,” he argued “and allow the rural areas to re-regulate their networks, to spend public money more efficiently and to support innovations within the sector, especially the community transport sector.”
The Westminster Conference, of course, wasn’t just about the speakers. Following each session the floor was opened for discussion, with attendees getting involved and asking panel members questions as well as sharing their thoughts.
You can listen to the full Q&A below. It deals with issues such as whether we should base policy and legislation on our aspirations for where we want community transport to go rather than our assumptions on where it will be going; how we make sure that we give as much attention to rural transport as we do to transport in London and other cities; understanding that we need to solve immediate issues today and that, as an audience member said, “a society like ours isn’t praise-worthy unless it looks after the people who need help today, tomorrow and next week.”