Looking back on the Westminster Conference- Reimagining Local Transport

Tom Banner

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.

David McNeill

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.”

 

 

 

Autumn Statement: Transport

James Coe Banner

On Wednesday in its Autumn Statement the government revealed a revised spending plan over the next Parliament.  One of the headlines has been that the Department for Transport will undergo a 37% budget cut over the lifetime of this Parliament.  This cut is the largest of any government department.  In our Autumn Statement review we have looked at some of the key transport news.

What the Chancellor has said

The government has pledged to increase investment in infrastructure by 50% to £61billion over the lifetime of this Parliament.  This may sound like a lot, but it is important to remember that HS2 is also accounted for as part of this sum.

The much vaunted ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has remained on the Chancellor’s agenda with a pledge of £13billion of investment in the north.  Part of this funding is going to be used to deliver smarter and more integrated ticketing systems.

The government has pledged £15billion toward its Road Investment Strategy, which will enable resurfacing over 80% of the strategic road network, and deliver over 1,300 miles of additional lanes.  As part of road investment the government have also promised a ‘pothole’ fund of £250 million over the next five years, to further aid road maintenance.

The Chancellor has promised £475million over the next five years to fund local transport projects.  It is hoped this will allow local areas to bid for projects that would be too expensive for them to pay for by themselves, Lowestoft Third River Cross and North Devon Link Road were cited as two such examples.

There will be an overall departmental resource saving of 37% by 2019-2020.  In part the saving will come from reducing the subsidies paid to rail franchises.  The government has also promised to completely cut the annual £591 million grant it pays to Transport for London.  It is understood this funding will not affect already planned government infrastructure investment, in project such as Tube upgrades.

The Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) has been protected, and funding will remain at current levels, for the time being.

What we’re saying

First and foremost the protection of BSOG from further cuts represents really good news for the transport sector, and the Campaign for Better Transport deserve an enormous amount of credit for their hard work on this issue.  This fund totals £250 million, and a 2014 survey of community transport operators carried out by the Community Transport Association found that 94% of respondents said they were either completely reliant, or to some extent reliant, on this funding.  These results are an indication of just how important this funding is in supporting accessible and inclusive transport.

More broadly, the Autumn Statement is a mix of good and bad news for the transport sector, and it’s not clear where further spending cuts in transport will be made during this Parliament.    It is good news that the Road Investment Strategy has received additional funding, and an improvement in road surfaces will help with long-term vehicle maintenance.  Similarly, 1,300 miles of additional road could help to reduce traffic.

It is good to see 50% increase in capital expenditure in infrastructure, but with a departmental cut of 37% there is a concern that there will not be the resources to deliver these massive infrastructure projects as efficiently as possible.  The Financial Times has noted that a cut to departmental spending, alongside the rehashing of previously announced policies such as the Road Investment Strategy, casts into doubt the Chancellor’s assertion that ‘we are builders.’  Furthermore, given that capital funding is disproportionately weighted toward London other regions of the country may not benefit from this additional investment.  This additional funding may feel particularly absent where local authorities who are facing further budget reduction choose to make cuts to their transport provision.

At the Community Transport Association we believe that proper infrastructure development is key to delivering accessible and inclusive transport. In developing an integrated transport system investment in roads, rails, and maintaining bus funding, all play an important role.  The cut to overall departmental spending is a worrying development, and we will be watching closely where those cuts come from. As ever we will be championing the role of community transport in any future transport strategy.

Campaign for Better Transport: A Report on Bus Funding Across England and Wales

James Coe Banner

In a recent report the Campaign for Better Transport has highlighted a number of concerns over a year on year reduction in spending on bus services.  This report follows a letter the Campaign for Better Transport wrote to the Chancellor, George Osborne, expressing concerns over threats to government bus funding in the upcoming Spending Review.

The report highlights the continual cuts to local authority bus services, pointing out that:

“this year 63 per cent of local authorities in England and Wales have cut funding for bus services, whilst 44 per cent have removed or withdrawn services. Local authority funding for supported bus services has fallen by £22.6 million. Around 425 routes have been reduced or altered, of which 145 have been withdrawn altogether”

As a portion of money local authorities use to subsidise socially necessary bus services also funds many community transport services we are concerned that further cuts could have an impact on community transport, as well as scheduled services.

Fundamentally, it is our belief that bus services perform a vital social good, in their letter and subsequent report the Campaign for Better Transport highlight the negative impact cutting services could have on elderly people.  We know from national research the importance of bus transport in reducing social isolation for elderly people, a recent Age UK report highlights the fact that 1.45 million people over 65 find it difficult to travel to hospital appointments; this is a statistic that will only rise should there be further cuts to bus transport.  From our own experience in community transport it is apparent how valuable, affordable and accessible bus networks can be for some elderly people.

Another major concern highlighted in the report is that there have been fall of 27 million in the number of bus journeys taken in England since last year.  Cuts to bus services are having a demonstrable impact on the number of passenger journeys and this is clearly unsustainable.  We know that bus services can be more sustainable where community transport is used to complement mainstream services, and we believe better integration of community transport services could have a great benefit to local communities.

We are particularly concerned that in the 30 years since the Transport Act local bus passenger journeys outside of London have decreased by 37%.  Both the letter and the report highlight the effects proposed cuts to bus funding could have on younger people who rely on transport to go to and from work.  Bus travel plays a key role in supporting local employers and employees, and as the letter points out, is key to helping ‘hardworking people’ access employment.

Bus services have an obvious social function, and in looking at the effect of bus service cuts it is necessary to consider the impact that these changes could have on health services, welfare services, and the ability for people to access education.  The Campaign for Better Transport argue that a long term ‘Connectivity Fund’ could be funded from across government to support innovation in transport.

We have seen first-hand the transformative effect that transport can have on individuals whether that be for education, in a healthcare setting, or to alleviate social isolation and loneliness. Ongoing discussions on bus funding should have the social value of bus transport at the forefront of any considerations, alongside the demonstrably positive economic impact investment in bus travel has.

 

 

 

The Importance of Group Transport

ECT

For many of us, one of the real highlights of summer is taking a much anticipated summer holiday away. The excitement builds for weeks and the break, we all feel, is well deserved and much needed. A week or two in the sun or the great outdoors or simply a change of scenery promises to rejuvenate us leaving us ready to take on whatever the next few months have to throw at us.

However for many socially isolated people, particularly elderly or disabled people, that much needed break and variety is simply out of the question. Why? Because often, getting out and about when having mobility difficulties can be extremely difficult if one doesn’t have a strong support network around. Mainstream transport can be almost impossible to use for those with mobility difficulties. This often means that those who are already struggling with access to things many of us take for granted become even more isolated and lonely.

On top of struggling with transport, many elderly and disabled people have individual health needs which prevent them from holidaying away from their homes. For these individuals, getting away on outings and day trips is the equivalent of a holiday. Voluntary and community organisations are well aware of the huge importance of these trips to the lives of those who are socially isolated. A change of scenery even for a day can make a huge difference to brightening up someone’s life and ECT has been working hard with these organisations to help vulnerable groups have welcome mini breaks this summer.

In July, MS Society took 40 members on a day trip to Kew Gardens and ECT provided the transport to make this trip a reality. With 7 wheelchair users and a large group of people with varying degrees of mobility, accessible transport was critical. From the normal routine of being stuck in their houses all day long, members had a trip to the wonderful gardens in Kew, a great opportunity to meet others and for many the excursion was one of the brightest and most exciting parts of their summer.

The social and economic value of improving accessibility for vulnerable and isolated people cannot be underestimated. This is something CTs across the country believe passionately in and gradually as more research is done on this space, the value of what CTs have to offer with a truly accessible and door-to-door service is becoming clearer. As well as helping to reduce loneliness and isolation, increasingly there is evidence to suggest that there is a significant indirect economic benefit to providing vulnerable and socially isolated groups with means to access mainstream life. Watch this space for updates.

For more information on Ealing Community Transport take a look at their website and a recent news article about the work that they did over the summer.

Tackling social isolation: our thoughts on the ‘Age and Social Isolation’ Report

John Banner

Social isolation is a universal issue: in every country and every community there are people who, through no fault of their own, are lonely and isolated.  It’s a huge issue and one which is deserving of time and attention. This blog post, therefore, will be little longer than usual. In it, we’ll be looking at our thoughts on a recent report by the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee which seeks to understand the causes of social isolation and the ways in which we can develop a strategy to address it.

The report, titled ‘Age and Social Isolation’ (which you can read here), was written after the Committee collected both written and oral evidence from organisations and charities across Scotland, including the Community Transport Association.

We would like to share four main thoughts on the report.

There is a need for inclusive and accessible transport

One of the report’s key sections, which drew on the evidence we submitted, is transport. This, of course, is where the focus of the CTA lies:  championing the role of inclusive and accessible transport for all.

In our evidence to the committee we argued that when older people are asked about the facilities they need, transport always comes near the top if the list. Transport, however, tends to be at the bottom of the list of priorities in planning for old age within public bodies.

When older people are left without transport, it affects their ability to get out and about and be part of their communities. This in turn can lead to social isolation. Getting out of the house with a sense of purpose provides an important source of enjoyment and activity for older people and without inclusive and accessible transport this is at risk.

The report concurs, stating that “in both rural and urban areas there is a lack of transport to meet people’s needs” and that “accessible transport is key to tackling social isolation for both younger and older people.”

The report also puts forward the point that since it isn’t a statutory requirement to provide transport, “when local authority budgets are being cut, the first thing that they draw back from is the provision of transport for social activities.”

This was an issue that we raised in our evidence, arguing that transport needed to be “better embedded within the planning of services and not left as an awkward problem for others to resolve.”

The report recommends that the Scottish Government works with local authorities to improve the availability of community transport, and that the provision of accessible and inclusive transport should be a key part of any strategy to tackle social isolation.

This is an issue that affects both younger and older people

The report also discussed the fact that it’s easy to think that this is an issue that just affects older people. And whilst it is older people who are most at risk from social isolation, it is something that affects an increasing number of young people. Social isolation amongst younger people can be due to bullying and discrimination, particularly against young disabled people, LGBT people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Tackling their isolation means tackling discrimination, as well as providing them with safe spaces to be themselves. This links back into the issue of accessible transport, since it’s often assumed that young people have easy access to transport; this isn’t always the case. To repeat one of the report’s main findings: “Accessible transport is key to tackling social isolation for both younger and older people.”

There is a stigma surrounding social isolation and loneliness

Another issue that jumped out at us from the report is the way we look at, and talk about, social isolation and loneliness. The report discusses the taboo and stigma surrounding isolation, with Stephen McLellan from Recover Across Mental Health saying: “Nobody wants to own up to or acknowledge being lonely because that is almost an admission of failure and of defeat.” As a result there are people living isolated lives who feel that they should bear the burden themselves instead of asking for help. This is one of the reasons why the problem of isolation amongst young people is often overlooked.

A lack of awareness, therefore, is something that has a negative impact both on the ability of organisations to provide care to those in need, but also to identify them in the first place.

This lack of understanding of the true cost of social isolation also extends to a lack of initiative to do something about the problem. Organisations, like many of our members, who take both older and younger people to social events in their communities are often seen as ‘nice’ but not really that important.

“We are not just a fluffy charity which provides trips and tea dances,” said Cumbernauld Action for Care of the Elderly. “We are achieving real results and helping older people stay happy and healthy, and living in their homes for longer.”

This sentiment was also expressed by those who use similar services, including a lady in Grangemouth who uses transport provided by one of our members. “The Dial a Journey bus is my lifeline,” she said. “It’s the only means I have of getting out. I use it three times a week. Don’t get out much. This is one of the highlights of my week.”

We therefore need to raise awareness both about the problem of, and the solutions to, this issue.

Loneliness and social isolation, therefore, is an issue that needs to be put on everyone’s agenda. The stigma that surrounds it needs to be addressed and we need to do more to make sure that those who need help can receive it.  This means championing organisations that promote interconnectedness and access to the community, ensuring they have the ability to provide inclusive and accessible transport to those that need it most.

The report highlights the benefits of community transport and of services that tackle social isolation, stating that both the problems and the solutions need to be brought to the attention of the public and of policy makers.

The report concludes, and we absolutely concur, that we can only start being serious about tackling loneliness and social isolation if we give it the attention and understanding that it deserves. This report certainly does that and we’re pleased to have been able to contribute to it.

This was one of the issues that we discussed at our Scotland Conference last week, where Derek McKay MSP, Transport Minister for the Scottish Government, talked about the role of community transport in Scotland. It’s also a theme that will be picked up at our Westminster Conference on 25 November.

Making sure that Scotland, and indeed the whole of the UK, has a thriving and strong community transport sector is a vital part of ensuring that people young and old are enabled to be vibrant and involved members of their communities. It’s an issue that is already on the agenda of the Scottish Parliament and it’s something for which we will continue to advocate and raise in discussions in the future.

Total Transport North Conference

Bill Banner circle

I was lucky enough to attend the Total Transport North Conference at the National Railway Museum in York recently.  The aim of the conference was for the transport sector to come together and discuss the  Total Transport initiative.

Total Transport is an scheme devised by councils which involves bringing together the funding and expertise behind a diverse range of transport providers in order to ensure the needs of communities are considered when planning transport services. Total Transport, which takes into account both commercial bus routes and community transport schemes, is only at the pilot stage at the moment (albeit in 37 areas) and the conference sought to discuss the impact that it’s been having in those communities.

Speaking at the event was Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, who talked about the benefits that buses have on communities and how inadequate bus services, especially in rural areas, are of great concern. A strong theme throughout the day, from the Minister’s opening remarks onwards, was that a Total Transport response to these issues had to be conceptualised as something driven from the ground-up and couldn’t just be imposed from Westminster and Whitehall.

Both Charlotte Hughes (our Director of Marketing and Development) and I were involved in the discussion throughout the day, thanking the minister for his support for community transport and welcoming the vision he’d shared for Total Transport. The CTA is keen, we said, to make sure that people in communities who deliver accessible and inclusive transport get to play their part. Later in the conference I also shared our vision for a transport system shaped by strong local leaders, that could inspire a coalition of support in their community for improving local transport, making it better able to meet a broader range of needs, with accessibility and inclusiveness central to this.

Another theme was the greater integration of health with those services commissioned by local authorities, with a big emphasis on improving cost-effectiveness. In one discussion we highlighted the need for these cost effective measures to look beyond savings to transport budgets. One of the things we raised was research done by the CTA which showed that 74 per cent of operators in England ran trips for health reasons but only 24 per cent had NHS funding. This is something that may be cost effective from a health commissioner’s perspective but might not pass that test for others. This gap between those supporting the health service and those being paid for it indicates that relationships need to develop to enable health commissioners to understand the massive savings that could be made through a modest investment in local community transport.

I took the opportunity to ask Andrew Jones how we could make sure that these issues are as important to the Department of Health as they are to the Department of Transport. The minister agreed that making Total Transport work from the ground up was essential and he told us that although conversations with health minsters were important, he believed that it was crucial for Whitehall to get out of the way and let local people decide how their transport should be organised.

The Total Transport initiative is one which is going to significantly shape the way that local transport is run and organised in the future and the CTA will make sure that the voices of community transport operators are heard and listened to. Community transport is part of the solution when it comes to improving local transport and access to health services and it’s vital that the current and future contributions of its members are addressed.

Whilst there is much discussion still to be had, the conference gave us reason to be positive about the future of community transport and Total Transport. We met a dedicated and thoughtful group of people who are all keen to work with the CTA and our members to make sure that community transport is part of the wider solution.

Conversation around Total Transport and the role of community transport will continue at our Westminster Conference on 25 November where Andrew Jones MP will be giving a message. For more information, or to book, click here.

Your Community Transport Stories

Charlotte Banner

A couple of weeks ago we sent an email out to our members asking them to share the stories of the people that run and use their services. The response from our members has been fantastic, demonstrating the very best of community transport and the incredible work that these organisations do. We’ve also had the pleasure of visiting members across the UK, such as DANSA in Neath, South Wales, seeing their vital work first hand. The work that we’ve seen and the stories that we’ve received shine a light on dedicated drivers, committed volunteers and inspirational passengers.

We’re going to be telling these stories in variety of ways, focusing on different aspects of community transports and the different people involved in providing, and benefiting from, inclusive and accessible transport. In this post, we’re going to be looking at the volunteers that give up their time to help those in their communities and some of the lives that these incredibly hard-working people touch.

Anne, who runs ‘The Plum Club’ got in touch to tell us about their weekly service for older people in a very isolated area of Northern Ireland. They run a door-to-door pick-up service, taking their passengers to Strabane for shopping, a lunch club, a game of bingo and then dropping them back off at their own front door.

The service is provided entirely by volunteers and is indicative of the role that volunteers play across the UK, giving up their time to help those in their community. The Plum Club operates for 50 weeks a year, driving around 75 miles for each trip!

“Some of these people may not have any social contact if it wasn’t for this service” said Anne. “It gives them independence, comradeship, company and a sense of wellbeing. It’s great to see them out and about.”

Nina from Lincolnshire County Council also wrote to us with the story of a fantastic group of volunteers and specifically about Bob, the chairman of a car scheme run by a staff of 120 volunteer drivers. The scheme has an office in Louth Hospital and supports patients, staff and local people to get access to the medical care that they need. “Bob is now 75 and tirelessly volunteers in the office, sorting drivers’ rosters to take into account the number of hours or days each driver is happy to volunteer. Bob has to be forced to take a break by his wife; I think he only took one long weekend throughout the whole of last year!” Bob and his volunteers don’t just operate a normal 9-5 scheme; they also have an emergency mobile number which people can use to get to, or get home from, hospital can and get the transport they need, when they need it.

This is why volunteers across the country work so hard: the people who, without their help, wouldn’t be able to access the sorts of services and activities that so many of us take for granted.

Midge from Grimsby and Cleepthorpes Dial-a-Ride encapsulated this when she sent us a letter written by the mother of two girls with Down’s syndrome in support of their nomination for the 2015 Queens Award.

The two girls, who live in specially designed and supported flats in Grimsby, have been using community transport since 1995 when they were 10 & 13 years old. The extent of their disabilities has meant that neither have ever been able to use public transport. Their mother wrote:

“I would like to nominate Grimsby & Cleethorpes Dial-a-Ride for the 2015 Queens Award for Volunteers. They do a wonderful job looking after the elderly and disabled who rely on these volunteer drivers to take them from place to place, without which they would have a very limited lifestyle. The passengers depend totally on these wonderful people who turn out rain or shine, wind or snow, to give them some independence and to get out into the community. Quite a few passengers use wheelchairs and these lovely folk just do it with a smile on their faces. I know they brighten up my daughters’ lives; they are always laughing and chatting with them. Life would be so difficult without the care and support provided by these volunteers. Please consider these very special people for a very special award.”

Thanks both to this letter and the fantastic work they do, Grimsby & Cleethorpes Dial-a-Ride won the award. As a treat for their drivers they took them on a tour to Buckingham Palace and for a ride on the London Eye. There were spare seats available on the trip so they also took along both girls and their mum for a fantastic day out.

“This,” said Midge, “really is the best job in the world.”

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These are just a few of the stories that we’ve received over the last few weeks, all of which showcase the very best of what community transport has to offer. Keep in touch with the CTA to hear more, and if you’ve got any stories of your own please get in touch with tom@ctauk.org

Brent CT Celebrates its 40th Anniversary

brentct banner

Brent Community Transport recently celebrated 40 years of providing services to the local community at our recent Annual General Meeting held at the iconic Wembley Stadium. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite at its 80,000 capacity but the Pitch View SE Conference venue was more than fitting for this momentous milestone in the life of BCT.

Our Chair, Moses, started the proceedings by talking about BCT’s humble beginnings: operating from the home of its first full-time staff member using a single battered Transit minibus! As early as 1975, BCT didn’t see itself as only a provider of affordable transport for vulnerable people such as the homeless or those with disabilities; it also provided resources such as a community care scheme, Dial-A-Ride, a removal service and a community garage.

In 1975, BCT secured a grant to purchase newer though not brand new transits, causing the fleet to swell to a whopping three minibuses! As time passed, our fleet and our staff grew significantly larger.

Our 40-year celebration was attended by the Community Transport Association’s Chief Executive Bill Freeman (who gave the key note address); the Mayor of Brent, Councillor Lesley Jones MBE; and representatives from organisations  such as Harrow CT and Barnet CT. We were also pleased to have other guests including a range of our service users, both individuals and organisations. To add to the celebrations dance group Muskaan (members of the Asian People’s Disability Alliance) put on quite a show!

DSC_0036

CTA’s Bill Freeman said: “When we talk about organisations that have worked for 40 years we often hear phrases like ‘built to last’ but I don’t think this is quite right. When we think about the changes of government, public policy priorities and community needs over the time that Brent Community Transport has been operating, it suggests that this organisation was built, not just to last, but to change and to adapt to the needs of its community and is worthy of of our praise.”

One of those attending the event said: “I’ve never been to Wembley before and I am so pleased and grateful for the opportunity to be here and for all the work BCT have done.”

We really are so proud of all the work that we’ve done since we started all those years ago. 40 years of service is a wonderful achievement and it’s only been possible because of staff, past and present, who have been committed to helping vulnerable people in our communities. We’re going to continue to build on our community ethos and face the challenge of tomorrow, together.

The ongoing success of BCT, particularly in the last two years, has been due in part to the continued support of the Management Committee who have worked closely with all of our staff; we’d like to thank them for what they do for us and our community.

Thank you to everyone who came along to our event to celebrate our last 40 years. Here’s to 40 more!

Find out more about Brent Community Transport on their website

It’s two weeks until the CTA Scotland Conference

John Banner

Whilst preparation for the CTA’s annual Westminster Conference is going on, we’re about to hold our CTA Scotland Conference on 3 November at the RBS Conference Centre in Edinburgh.

As is the case all across the UK, community transport in Scotland is undergoing a period of significant scrutiny and our conference comes just at the right time, with the Scottish Government refreshing its transport strategy for Scotland.

The conference will feature Derek Mackay MSP, the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister, who is giving his first address specifically to a community transport audience. Derek is going to be speaking to the conference on where community transport fits in to Transport Scotland’s plans. There may also be news on how the Scottish government might be able to help community transport operators navigate the issue of D1 licences, which is making it increasingly difficult to recruit volunteer drivers.

Derek will be joined by Les Huckfield, a former MEP and a seasoned expert on European funding. Les will be sharing his wisdom on the new EU funding programme that is now open and which will be running until 2020. The programme has an emphasis on ensuring that their financial support has a bigger impact on communities than in previous years, meaning that the fund could provide significant opportunities for our members to receive European funding. Anyone who’s had experience with EU funding in the past will be aware of how complicated it can sometimes be, so Les will be breaking it down to make it more accessible to our members.

As with the Westminster Conference on 25 November, the Scotland Conference will have discussion on the regulatory scrutiny under which community transport is currently being placed, looking at potential changes and how they might affect community transport operators.

The day will also give attendees the opportunity to make their voices heard in the Scottish Government’s ‘A Fairer Scotland’ consultation with the government hoping to hear from community transport operators. At the Community Transport Association, we work to make sure that the voices of our members are heard in the policy-making process so we’re pleased to give attendees the opportunity to raise issues, and be listened to, by people with the ability to make political changes happen.

The conference will run from 09:30 – 15:30 and will cost £50 for CTA members and £70 for non-members. For more information and to register click here.  We hope to see you there.

‘Missing the Bus?’ 5 takeaways from the LGA’s recent report.

Tom Banner

“Buses play a vital role in enabling people…to access health, education, leisure services, shops and of course jobs. They are crucial to many people’s general well-being, especially those who are at risk from social isolation.”

That quotation opened the Local Government Association’s recent report on the future of bus services in the UK. The report, titled ‘Missing the Bus? Councils and the future of the bus in non-metropolitan areas’, discussed the problems facing bus services across the country and the threat faced by those who rely on them.

Community transport plays a vital role in the running of bus services in the UK through its own Section 22 routes that complement or feed mainstream services, so this report was of significant interest to the CTA and to our members. Here we discuss our five primary thoughts on the report.

Bus services really are vital to communities

Over five billion bus journeys are made every year across the UK- three times more than the total number of journeys by rail. Buses, especially those in rural communities, are vital in ensuring that hundreds of thousands of people are able to participate in their society, accessing health services, education, recreation and jobs.

The very fact that the LGA has put out this report shows that bus services are on the agenda and we couldn’t be happier about that. It’s vital, though, that bus services, and their relationship with community transport, continue to be recognised and understood when it comes to looking at transport policy in the UK, and that their high level of importance needs to be kept in mind when discussing policy specific to buses.

It’s important to consult communities on cuts and changes to bus services

Due to funding cuts, councils are having to make significant reductions to bus services and it’s vitally important that the communities affected are consulted on cuts and changes. The report concurs saying that “public consultation has proved essential” when changing bus routes and attempting to mitigate the effects of cuts on the public.

Local communities are always willing to get involved in this process and they should always be given the right to contribute. Recently, the Community Transport Association put together a report for councils on how to make consultations accessible to the public. We talked about making sure that consultations are visible, giving people every opportunity to attend, and that they cater to those with disabilities and other needs. We’ll be publishing the report soon.

Community Transport is not immune to cuts and regulation but it needs to be part of the solution

“A further important element in framing service cuts,” the report says, “was whether alternatives to the traditional bus could meet needs at lower costs.” One such alternative mentioned by the report was community transport.

The report states, however, that community transport may struggle in many areas to fill the gaps created by cuts to bus services since CT operators are also facing problems, being “squeezed between state aid rules on the one hand and a lack of volunteers and funding on the other.”

We’re pleased to see the LGA recognising the problems facing community transport, especially picking up on the issue of D1 licences which often hurts the ability of community transport operators to recruit volunteer drivers.  It’s undoubtedly true, then, that community transport is feeling the effects of cuts and government regulation. CT operators are not invulnerable, with a number going out of business alongside commercial operators.

Community transport, however, along with other ‘non-conventional’ solutions such as demand response transport, taxi buses and wheels to work schemes, are still prominent features on the transport landscape. It’s important to recognise the problems facing community transport but it’s also vital that we act on these problems and don’t discount the value and the impact that an increase in CT services could have. Whilst community transport is feeling the effects of cuts and regulation like everyone else, it is part of the solution and can provide excellent value for money and services to communities.

Moreover, we recently put out a briefing note on the government’s proposed Buses Bill, looking at changes to bus services across the UK. In it we reiterated our belief that community transport should be seen as part of the mainstream network, not just as a last resort to pick up the slack if bus services fail. We passionately believe in the benefits of greater integration of CT services and a better relationship between community transport and the private sector. As the transport sector looks at the future of bus services in the UK, we are confident that others will join us in this way of thinking.

Services are at risk from future cuts

In the report, the LGA states that “reductions of up to 40% to core council funding have called into question the future of many services.” They continue: “There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that bus cuts can leave the elderly unable to manage on their own.”

This is just one example of the real world impact that cuts to bus services have on those in our society and those that community transport operators exist to help. With the potential of more cuts to come, the role of community transport will become ever more vital. Whilst we are adamant, then, that community transport is not just a fall back for when commercial bus services fail, our members are picking up that role and need the support of the CTA and local government to do so.

There is cause for optimism however

The report states, and we concur, that there is cause for optimism. The Government’s enthusiasm for Total Transport is such a cause. Total Transport is an initiative devised by councils which involves bringing together the funding and expertise behind a diverse range of transport providers. The scheme aims to create a “more customer focused service based on consumer choice and what they are willing to pay, rather than a centralised system.” The Total Transport approach helps to ensure that transport costs and the needs of the community are considered whilst planning services and looks both at commercial bus routes and community transport schemes. The Total Transport initiative is only in the pilot stage at the moment, albeit in 37 areas, but we hope that as the scheme develops it will prove a benefit to community transport operators and subsequently to the people and communities that they serve.

All in all, then, the LGA’s report makes for an interesting and informative read, highlighting the issues that bus services and their users face, but also discussing how services and communities can be protected. We believe that, in large part, community transport can provide solutions and we will continue to advocate for CT operators to be regulated, involved and supported to make the biggest difference they can for the passengers and communities they serve.

Lastly, the Chair of the Local Government Association and the author of the report’s foreword is Councillor Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council; he be speaking at the Community Transport Association’s Westminster Conference on 25 November. The conference will be a fantastic opportunity to talk to some of those at the forefront of government and the transport and voluntary sectors. More information on the event, and how to book, can be found here.