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MiniPlus Article
May 24 2018
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

DfT slated for ‘shoddy’ consultation approach

Failure to understand costs and impact of changes among reasons for criticism from MPs; confusion caused ‘could sound death knell for community transport’ warns one as Minister softens on contracts

Jesse Norman: LAs should not withhold contracts from permit holders

MPs from all parties have urged the Department for Transport (DfT) to listen to concerns that community transport will largely cease to exist if it does not drop what they describe as a “legalistic approach” to bringing the sector in line with EU Regulation 1071/2009.

In a Westminster Hall debate on 10 May, politicians excoriated the DfT for its failure to understand the gravity of the situation currently faced by community transport organisations (CTOs).

The Department was particularly criticised for its costings calculations, which MPs say are vastly underestimated.

The DfT was accused of having not kept pace with change over a number of years by failing to listen to complaints raised by commercial operators before adopting proposals that have been likened to “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

“Confusion caused by the DfT’s actions could sound the death knell for community transport as it is currently structured,” says Luke Pollard, Co-Operative Party MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport.

“The DfT had the window to correct the problem before long-term damage was done. I fear that window of opportunity has now closed. The consequences of the DfT’s inaction is that CTOs are shedding volunteers and vehicles.”

Several MPs stated that in their constituencies, CTOs are already considering winding up their organisations, and that there is no sign of commercial operators being ready to step in to take up the slack that will create.

Also receiving criticism was the DfT’s social impact assessment. “The Department has done a shoddy piece of work,” says Sir Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and also Chair of the HCT Group. Sir Vince’s view, shared by other MPs, is that the DfT has failed to consider “some fundamental costs.” It is that oversight, some groups have argued, that has made the consultation process terminally flawed.

Under-Secretary of State Jesse Norman defended the DfT’s consultation process, saying that all submissions will be evaluated individually and that nothing has yet been decided. In a notable development, Mr Norman added that local authorities “should not withhold contracts” from section 19 and section 22 permit holders “until further clarification.”

In an update for LAs on 14 May, the DfT says that it is committed to working with them to develop, explore and test new ideas and to see how they work work in practice. It adds that LAs wishing to change their policy in regard to issuing contracts to permit holders should contact it first.

The DfT will issue a summary response to the consultation before summer recess commences on 24 July. That document will include interim findings and it will set out what CTOs and LAs can expect in the coming months. No date has been given for the formal response.

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