ECT Charity was delighted to see MPs from across the political divide and from all over the UK united in their support for community transport earlier this month.
On Thursday 10 May, a debate took place in Parliament about the future of community transport. Members of Parliament discussed the Department for Transport’s proposed reforms of the legal operating system for community transport which, in our view, is an enormous threat to the future of our services and those of hundreds of other community transport charities across the country.
During the 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall, many MPs expressed their admiration for the work that community transport does. Speakers included the Father of the House and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, Liberal Democrat party leader Sir Vince Cable and former transport secretary Sir Patrick McLoughlin.
Lilian Greenwood, the chair of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, who called the debate, said at its conclusion: “There cannot be many issues that unite the Father of the House, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, a Conservative former Secretary of State for Transport, three Select Committee chairs, the Scottish National Party and Labour spokespeople and so many other learned honourable members.”
She added: “We know the immense value of community transport. It meets unmet need, generates social value and provides a lifeline to people who may otherwise be cut off from friends, family, work, education, social activities and essential appointments due to disability or geography.”
Highlighting our views to government
At ECT Charity we have recently been working hard to prepare and submit our response to the Department for Transport’s consultation on the reforms which closed on 4 May. This consultation follows many months of uncertainty for the community transport sector after the Department for Transport issued a letter to operators stating that many of us would have to operate under a different legal regime if we were running some types of public service contracts. (You can read more about the background to the current situation here.)
The proposed reforms stem from a reinterpretation made by the Department for Transport of a European law in effect since 2011. We pointed out in our response to the Department for Transport’s consultation that we believe that this reinterpretation of the law is incorrect.
We emphasised in our response that like many other community transport organisations around the UK, if we were unable to tender for contracts using the current permit system, all charitable community transport activities would stop or be severely diminished due to no sustainable funding and the shortage of drivers.
We added that if community transport services from us and other operators were to cease, costs in health and social care budgets at local and national level would increase dramatically, as thousands of elderly and vulnerable people would lose their lifeline transport.
ECT Charity also contributed to a survey carried out by Mobility Matters, a campaign group representing over 300 community transport supporters, which quantified the likely impact of the Department for Transport’s proposed guidance.
A vital lifeline
We are pleased that during last week’s debate it became clear that many MPs agree with us and recognise the valuable work that we and other community transport organisations do in their constituencies which is currently under threat from the Department for Transport’s proposals. Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, called community transport a “vital lifeline”, Maggie Throup, MP for Erewash, said she had a “passion” for community transport, and Alex Chalk, Cheltenham’s MP described community transport organisations as “fantastic”.
Stephen Pound, MP for Ealing North, who is familiar with our work in his constituency said: “Ealing Community Transport is the exemplar; the finest example; the industry standard; the diamond mark of community transport.”
He added: “The community transport sector should be nourished, cherished, respected and admired.”
Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and Acton, described her recent visit to ECT where she joined passengers on a minibus trip. She said that one of the women on the journey, who had recently suffered a fall, described the service as “a godsend”. (You can read about this here.)
She added: “These services save our local authorities a huge amount of money in avoided health and social care costs, which is the biggest bill for all local authorities at the moment.”
Here at ECT Charity, on behalf of our passengers, we would like to thank Lilian Greenwood for calling the debate. We hope that the Minister for Transport, Jesse Norman, takes on board the concerns of so many people.
Additionally, we are pleased to see that after the debate, Mr Norman wrote to local authorities to emphasise that they should not end or withhold any community transport contracts while the Department for Transport is considering its response to the consultation.
The response is expected before the summer recess of Parliament.