Important Message from CTA’s Chief Executive, Bill Freeman

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I am writing to you as Chief Executive of the Community Transport Association (CTA) to let you know I received the following letter from the Department for Transport (DfT) yesterday evening. Please click the link below to view the letter.

Letter: The Issue and Use of Section 19 and Section 22 Permits for Road Passenger Transport in Great Britain.

First things first, I want to assure you that my team are already supporting the operator mentioned in the first part of the letter to manage this situation. This is a live case which hasn’t run its course so you’ll understand why I won’t comment further on this individual case.

I also wanted to immediately reach out to every other CTA member and explain what we are going to do next as your membership organisation.

It’s been just over two years since the European Commission required the UK Government to address how the EU directives on operator licensing were interpreted into UK law. Prior to that, and since, our sector has continually been subjected to challenges from a small group of commercial operators with regard to the awarding of Local Authority contracts.

Throughout that time, the CTA has urged everyone not to rush to judgement about the likely outcome and to wait until the DfT has stated its position and intended response. The letter I received yesterday contains that position, albeit in response to action being taken by DVSA following the complaint it had received.

In changing how it intends to interpret the definition of ‘non-commercial’ in future, the DfT’s actions are likely to have implication for many community transport operators. This is not the news that any of us wanted.

The implication is that those operators competing for Local Authority contracts using Section 19 and 22 Permits may need to do this under a PSV Operators Licence in future. It is less clear how other organisations that use Permits, but do not compete for contracts, will be affected with regards to the application of Driver CPC.

Let us be clear, no where in any of this is DfT saying you are at fault for how you have been running your services. You have adhered to the commonly accepted interpretation of the regulations that all agencies, including the DfT, worked to and have done so in good faith. However the DfT is also saying that developments in our sector in recent decades should have led to them taking another look at the regulations to see whether the exemptions should still apply in the same way.

I am calling for four things to happen right now:

1) DVSA and other agencies should hold off taking action against organisations that are currently operating services using Section 19 and 22 Permits and where their drivers don’t hold Driver CPC until the UK Government’s consultation in the autumn is complete and to allow organisations time to review their operations and decide whether and how they move to an alternative arrangement.

2) Local Authorities and other public bodies that are currently holding contracts with community transport operators, for services being run under Section 19 and 22 Permits, should allow these contracts to continue and work with the operators to agree a process of moving to alternative arrangements. Local authorities should also see whether the services they ask community transport to run could be fulfilled under a grant agreement where no competitive tendering would be necessary.

3) The Government must assess the impact of this change on existing services, with particular regard for identifying people and communities at risk of isolation, or not being able to access vital public services. By accepting it has guided organisations to set themselves up to work and deliver contracts under Section 19 and 22 Permits, we believe the UK Government should now commit itself to understanding the full impact of these changes and where investment must be made to protect vulnerable people and employment.

4) The UK Government should work with its counterparts in the devolved nations to provide support to those organisations affected, to enable them to move to alternative arrangements.

Once we have got over the initial shock of this news and found ways to challenge it, it is important that we all look to the future and be open to new ways to make community transport thrive.

This could be the beginning of the end of this frustrating and destabilising campaign against our sector. We didn’t know how to win before, but we do now.

I am not calling on you to be open to change without reservation. It must be matched by openness by the UK Government and their counterparts in the devolved nations to support you to change.

Throughout the last few years, we have pushed the UK Government to accept that one of its objectives in settling this matter is to leave our sector in good shape. We believe that message has got through.

This will be the hardest thing many of your organisations have had to deal with, but we are a resilient sector. We are always the last people to walk away from a problem and say nothing can be done.

We have been called to change many times before and have done so. We must not allow ourselves to be defined by the badge in our windscreen. Ours is a bigger cause and calling, so however hard this might seem, we must remain focussed on why we exist.

Everywhere we go, across our four nations, we meet politicians and members of the public who love community transport and the difference it makes for people whose lives would be poorer without it. They will not understand why anyone wants to make it harder for community transport operators to continue to support some of our most vulnerable citizens. We call on all these friends across the transport industry, central and local government and the charity sector to stand with us and secure a stable future for your vital services that touch the lives of so many.

If you have any questions we will be also looking at preparing the sector to respond to the consultation described in this letter. We will also look at how we respond to advice questions. I would ask you to be patient as I am sure the service will see increased demand over the next few months.

I will also look at our annual conferences coming up and review their contents and programme and see if we can get an audience with the Minster and Department for Transport.

I have been working at CTA for four years today and I continue to be inspired every day by the dedicated and professional people working across our movement. I have had the pleasure of meeting many of you and spending time in your operations. I know we can work together to support our sector into 2018 and beyond.

I promise that as soon as I have anything further to share on these developments I will come back to you with this information.

If you are a Welsh language speaker, you can request this message in Welsh, please email hello@ctauk.org to do so.

If you have any questions in the meantime, please send these to hello@ctauk.org or call our advice line on 0345 130 6195.

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