This week saw the completion of the Transport Select Committee’s oral evidence sessions for its inquiry into community transport. Following the committee the Department for Transport released a further letter on section 19/22 permits. You can read the letter here.
At the Transport Select Committee Jesse Norman MP, Under Secretary of State for Transport, confirmed that the Government intends to issue its consultation on community transport before Christmas. We also expect that the Transport Select Committee will issue its report in the coming weeks.
Department for Transport Actions
Many of us believed that the letter of 31 July signalled that a process would be followed to reach a conclusion to this longstanding source of unsettlement for our sector. The last few years of constant challenges and questions over how we run our services has seen services under threat and close long before the 31 of July letter.
We’ve worked over the last few months to bring national attention to your concerns so you can continue to provide accessible transport to those who need it most. It’s clear that through this time you have continued to provide services with passion, tenacity, and dedication.
One thing we thought was also clear was that CT operators should continue to fulfil their obligations to adhere to currently published guidance until new guidance was issued, following the consultation. We believed there would be a sensitive approach to enforcement in the meantime.
However recent actions by the Department and other agencies has challenged that viewpoint. For example:
- The Office of the Traffic Commissioner has revised its process for applying for Permits without any formal announcement of this.
- On 9 November a document was issued to local authorities encouraging them to write to CT operators they work with to check compliance with the position on the regulations, as set out in the letter of 31 July. The letter also stated that it did not expect contracts to be cancelled, which has helped some CTA members in their conversations with local authorities.
- On 27 November a document was uploaded to the Department for Transport’s website which set out which Permit holders the Department believed would continue to be exempt from Regulation 1071/2009. The Department’s published guidance has also been altered to signpost to this document.
We believe these actions are the Department’s genuine attempt to provide some clarity and reassurance to our sector. But the net effect of all of this has been to cause further alarm and uncertainty, given that it deviates from what many of us expected would be the sequence in which changes would be considered and then implemented. This was acknowledged by the Department in its session with the Transport Select Committee on Monday. It has also led to scepticism about the consultation itself if changes are happening prior to it taking place.
What should happen next?
We feel the Transport Select Committees inquiry has provided a valuable mechanism for a deeper understanding of the problems and potential solutions. Its report is likely to contain some important reflections on the process so far and lessons for what should happen next.
We believe that the Government should consider the Committee’s report before going ahead with its own consultation.
Whenever the Government intends to go ahead with its own consultation, we think it would be helpful for it to set out a timetable now for the sequence of activities we can expect to see. As we said above, the issuing of several documents has taken the sector by surprise so we now want some clarity on what is going to happen and when.
Lastly, although the net effect of the documents that have been issued has been further alarm and uncertainty, they do contain some information that has helped some organisations. We are therefore committed to offering our thoughts to the Department on how to improve them and answer some of the questions that have been left unanswered.