Here in West Cornwall we are fortunate to enjoy the services of community transport initiatives and scores of local volunteers have ensured that people are able to get to health and other important appointments, do their shopping and banking and have the opportunity to get out and about.
This has been legally possible as all community transport groups that operate on a not-for-profit basis have been able to apply for permits to carry passengers in a bus or minibus without first holding the Public Service Vehicle operator’s licence (PSV licence). Sadly, pressure from commercial operators has led the Government to review this interpretation of EU legislation and has been consulting on how to clarify domestic law and guidance to ensure fair competition for commercial contracts.
I met with Jesse Norman, the Roads Minister, on Monday to represent the community transport providers in West Cornwall and he confirms his belief that our current community transport schemes will continue to be exempt as the service they provide could not be provided or sustained by a commercial operator.
Our transport operators provide vital services that reduce isolation by linking people and communities to existing transport networks, jobs, education, shops and services. It is also the case that community transport operators are in effect providers of social care services, especially to people who are elderly, isolated and disabled, motivated by compassion and philanthropy, not profit.
The Douglas Woolcock Foundation Trust is a perfect example of this. Twenty drivers have been given appropriate training in how to drive the vehicles and safely transport local residents. The transport has proved to be an essential asset to our community. The Government is not blind to the benefit of community transport schemes such as this and the Minister was clear: the majority of community transport operators should not be affected by any clarification of the EU rules.
In fact over recent years, the Government has provided considerable support to the sector by various means, including buying over 400 new minibuses for community transport groups, providing funding for the Community Transport Association in England to provide support to community transport operators and offering direct support to operators through the Bus Service Operators Grant scheme.
To summarise, if commercial operators are disguising themselves as community transport providers then they have reason to be concerned. However, the community transport providers I know are not and they can rest at ease.
I’m privileged to host surgeries for residents which I find both humbling and a great honour. Before Easter I moved my weekly appointment surgery slots from last thing Friday afternoons to early Friday mornings. This seems to be well received and I’m glad that people make use of this opportunity to raise an important issue or experience with me. In addition and as per my tradition I continue to organise ‘drop-in’ surgeries where no appointment is necessary. These have taken place in Ruan Minor, Lizard, Praa Sands, Mawgan, Mullion and Helford over the past two weekends and St Keverne takes place on Friday. Every issue is taken seriously and I work with my office to address peoples’ concerns.