ECT Charity welcomes the publication of the report today from the House of Commons Transport Committee which emphasises that Government must protect the social value of community transport – the lifeline we supply to vulnerable people who would otherwise not be able to get out and about.
The Department for Transport will shortly issue a consultation looking at potential reform of the Permit system, used by community transport organisations which provide community based transport for older, disabled, vulnerable and isolated people in their communities. The vitally important Permit system has been used for decades in good faith and in line with published guidance by the Department for Transport. ECT Charity looks forward to responding to that consultation.
Matters came to a head during the summer when the Department for Transport issued a letter to community transport operators. The letter, issued on 31 July, stated that many community transport operators would need to operate under a different legal regime if they were running some types of public service contracts.
ECT Charity has always been committed to full compliance with the legislation and so we have taken specialist advice to ensure we continue to operate correctly.
ECT Charity was very concerned that the communications from the Department for Transport and other bodies were causing confusion and a great deal of uncertainty for community transport operators and local authorities. We knew from colleagues in the sector that some local authorities were considering withdrawing contracts and some community transport organisations were under threat of closure.
For these reasons, ECT Charity’s Board of Trustees decided that seeking collective advice in a coordinated way from industry experts would be beneficial to community transport operators who were unsure where to turn. As a result, our CEO, Anna Whitty, was heavily involved in the establishment of Mobility Matters, a campaign group which is supported by over 300 community transport operators from across the country.
ECT Charity gives evidence to inquiry
In November, Anna gave evidence to the Transport Committee inquiry into community transport on behalf of Mobility Matters alongside Bill Freeman, CEO of the CTA, and Frank Phillips, Chairman of Erewash Community Transport. Anna told MPs that the communications to the community transport sector from the Department for Transport and its Minister had “shown a misunderstanding of the complexity of community transport and the impact of what we do”. She clarified that community transport operates to equally high standards as commercial operators.
Anna emphasised the social value community transport generates by providing much-needed services to people who have no other transport alternatives. For example, during the last year, ECT Charity created £1.3m of social value for the communities in which it operates.
The response to the Transport Committee inquiry from community transport operators and beneficiaries was overwhelming, with an unprecedented volume of evidence submitted in support of the sector and its lifeline services. At ECT Charity we are delighted the Transport Committee members have listened and we agree with the Committee that the social value of what we do – providing essential community-based local transport services to vulnerable people who would otherwise suffer isolation – is paramount.
The need for care and sensitivity
The Committee Chair, Lilian Greenwood MP, says the Department for Transport should demonstrate care and sensitivity as it moves forward with its consultation and that “it must not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. We wholeheartedly agree with this and we are confident that once the Department for Transport has considered the Transport Committee report and conducted its formal consultation that it will continue to allow all of us in the community transport sector to deliver our vital services to vulnerable people across the country.
The words of one of our drivers sums up our work well. He says:
“As a community transport driver for ECT, I feel privileged to be able to make a big difference to people’s lives by enabling our older or isolated passengers to remain independent, mobile and connected with their community.
“Today, I am taking Pete on his regular weekly shopping trip. Pete has a number of health problems and he acts as a carer for his wife too. He tells me they could not exist without ECT.
Barbara is widowed and no longer able to drive. She says without ECT she would be housebound and that ‘the drivers and the service are my lifeline’.
“Our passengers remain connected to the communities they life in through the simple act of taking a ride on the little green bus.”
In the meantime, ECT Charity continues to provide our vital community transport services and we would like to thank all of our staff, volunteers, passengers and supporters for their confidence in us and in the value of the sector. Without them we could not offer these excellent services and we are truly grateful to them.
ECT Charity will continue to work with Mobility Matters on its successful campaign and we have extended an open invitation to the Department for Transport to visit us and see community transport in action.