If you’re in Wales today, you’ll see children in red shawls and black chimney hats, bright green leeks and yellow daffodils. Across Wales we’ll be celebrating our culture, language, customs and music and a great sense of national pride, all in honour of Dewi Sant: St David.
Many towns and cities will be holding parades where people can join together to celebrate Welsh heritage and culture, and many of Wales’ castles and heritage sites are set to open free of charge from Castell Coch in South Wales, to Caernarfon Castle in North Wales.
This celebration of St David’s Day seems as opportune time as any to think about what the future of Community Transport looks like in Wales.
In May, all eyes will be on the Welsh Assembly elections and, whatever the result, Wales will have additional powers over transport as part of the St David’s Day 2015 devolution package. Currently the National Assembly for Wales has powers concerning highways and transport, yet it doesn’t have responsibility for bus registration or regulation.
The Draft Wales Bill, published in October 2015, does transfer further powers to Wales, although many argue that it doesn’t go far enough with regards to transport devolution. Some advocates within the transport sector argue that in order for the Welsh Government to achieve its objective of an integrated transport system then further devolution of powers is required.
What do CTA members in Wales think about transport devolution?
Last year, we invited members to comment on proposals to devolve bus registration and regulation powers to Wales. Many of the responses acknowledged that the devolution of bus registration would be beneficial for the sector as it would ensure that decisions would be quicker and more impactful as a result of being made at a more local level.
Overwhelmingly, members recognised that Wales needed its own dedicated traffic commissioner, not least to ensure adherence to the requirements of the Welsh language legislation which means that, in Wales, Welsh should be treated no less favourably than the English language.
We also asked our Welsh members to comment on whether further powers to regulate the bus industry in Wales are required. The responses from our members were mixed but, on the whole, organisations called for further investigation into what would be the best approach for Wales and how it could benefit the sector. It was recognised that regulation on its own will not necessarily bring about improvements.
The Community Transport Association would advocate that if further devolution of regulatory powers were to be proposed they must also deliver better outcomes for passengers, especially those who use community transport and have been particularly affected by the recent budget cuts: older people; those with disabilities; the unemployed; younger people and those in low income jobs.
If further devolution of transport powers would enable greater community input into the design of new routes, as well as greater accountability for, and visibility of, the transport needs of more vulnerable passengers, then we would be fully supportive.
What else is on the horizon in Wales?
In June 2015, the Welsh Government published its long-awaited map for the future configuration of Wales’ 22 local authorities and proposed reducing the number of local authorities to 8. The impact of this legislation should not be under estimated. The Welsh Local Government Association commented that: “The Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill is potentially one of the most significant and far-reaching pieces of public service reform legislation since devolution”.
Many have long recognised the need for public service reform however there remain radically different views within local government, within political parties and across the Assembly itself. Some disagree as to whether a compelling case has even been made for reorganisation at all and question whether reorganisation should occur during a period of austerity. Crucially, opinion remains extremely divided on what the future shape of local government should be if reorganisation does occur.
Not everything is uncertain in Wales, however! There are two pieces of exciting new legislation which could impact positively on the community transport sector.
Firstly: the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015. This Act is about improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. It will ensure that public bodies listed in the Act focus more on long term issues; that they work better with people, communities and each other; and take a more joined-up approach.
The aim of the Act is to help create a Wales that we all want to live in, now and in the future and to make sure we are all working towards the same vision. The Act puts in place seven well-being goals: a prosperous Wales; a resilient Wales; a healthier Wales; a more equal Wales; a Wales of cohesive communities; a Wales of a vibrant and thriving Welsh Language; and a globally responsive Wales. We’re confident that community transport could play a key role in supporting public authorities to meet these goals and the CTA is starting to think about how we can support the community transport sector to capitalise on this opportunity.
Secondly: the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act which will come into effect from April 2016. This Act provides the legal framework for improving the well-being of people who need care and support and carers who need support, all aimed at transforming social services in Wales. The Act changes the way people’s needs are assessed and the way services are delivered: people will have more of a say in the care and support they receive. It also promotes a range of help available within the community to reduce the need for formal, planned support which the CTA hopes will lead to improved partnership working between local authorities and the community transport sector.
So despite all the uncertainty and challenges, on St David’s Day we can look forward a future that we think will hold great opportunities for community transport.
To mark St David’s day, I’ll end with what’s believed to have been St David’s last words to his followers:”Bydwch lawen a chedwch ych ffyd a’ch cret, a gwnewch y petheu bychein a glywyssawch ac a welsawch gennyf i. A mynheu a gerdaf y fford yd aeth an tadeu idi.”
This translates as: “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”