The Transport Committee calls on the Government to demonstrate care and sensitivity as it moves to consult on reforming the community transport permit system.
In Community transport and the Department for Transport’s proposed consultation, the Committee’s first report of this parliamentary session, MPs acknowledge that UK law and guidance have become out of step with some community transport practice and EU Regulations.
However, warns the Committee, the Department for Transport must fully assess the potential knock-on effects of its proposed consultation on essential community-based local transport services to vulnerable people who would otherwise suffer isolation. It is essential that the social value added by the UK’s diverse and unique community transport sector is not lost.
The Transport Act 1985 and associated guidance established an effective framework for community transport but concerns about licencing some community transport activities via the permit system have been emerging for many years. In particular, a group of commercial operators have argued current practices create unfairness in contestable markets such as home-to-school transport. Despite this, the Department acted too slowly and without sensitivity to the sector. On occasion, actions such as communication have caused confusion and panic in the sector, requiring clarification.
Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“Community transport has changed considerably since legislation in 1985 and guidance has developed to fit widely accepted practice. In general, community transport organisations have acted in good faith and in line with guidance while delivering considerable social benefits.
The Department for Transport has been slow to address the valid concerns of this valuable area of transport provision and there are lessons to learn for future regulation of policy areas.
The Department has been forced to act by the threat of imminent legal action, but its consultation should avoid a narrow, legalistic focus. It must not lose sight of the vital policy objective of community transport: the provision of high quality, safe and secure local community services for people who might otherwise be left isolated.
Where instances of unfairness occur, they should be addressed. But the Department needs to more fully understand the scale of the problem, and the wider implications of the solutions it proposes. It must not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
While the Department has a duty to settle the legal issues, protection of essential services that enhance the lives of many thousands of vulnerable people is imperative. The Department should get on with the consultation as soon as practicable, but it should broaden the scope in line with our recommendations.”