Chief Executive of the Community Transport Association, Bill Freeman, has told the Transport Select Committee that the industry has been ‘bullying’ councils into dropping transport contracts held by its members.
The Transport Select Committee hearing on Monday (13 November) heard evidence from the Confederation of Passenger Transport’s Steven Salmon; The Bus and Coach Association’s Martin Allen; Anna Whitty MBE of Mobility Matters; Frank Phillips, Chairman of Erewash Community Transport and Bill Freeman.
The committee, chaired by Lilian Greenwood MP, was told by Mr Freeman that the now infamous letter of guidance for Section 19/22 operators – which demanded O licensing for operators with contested contracts or taking fares, and full D1 and CPC driver licensing for paid drivers – was the result of a ‘vocal and aggressive’ campaign against community transport organisations (CTOs) in highly localised areas.
He said the result of ‘bullying and threats’ was that some councils, such as Wirral, had backed away from allowing CTOs to operate openly tendered contracts. Having cited Hampshire and Yorkshire local authorities among those helping the CTOs through the problems, Mr Freeman said others had ‘gone along with’ the campaign to prevent CTOs bidding for contested contracts.
“It’s up to local authorities to decide what kind of attitude they have for the local [CT] sector and whether they want to work with it. In the Wirral, the local council have been bullied with threats of legal action… and have gone along with it, just for an easy life,” he said.
Lilian Greenwood questioned Mr Freeman about Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire – who have retendered contracts to exclude S19/22 holders – and asked whether their actions have had a widespread impact.
Mr Freeman said that, after the issue of the EC infraction proceedings letter of 2015, he had expected the ‘bullying’ to stop for a period of consultation: “They carried on, with individual threats to CTOs and to local authorities. It’s that grouping around the East Midlands, and you might ask why they’ve been singled out, and it’s to do with the originators of the complaints being based there, and contracts they want to win.”
He said he wondered if there was a correlation between the BCA’s 28 members and those areas where there have been the most challenges and threats.
In the first session, BCA’s Martin Allen and CPT’s Steven Salmon told the committee that the use of S19 and 22 permits to contest commercial contracts spread beyond CTOs, and included councils which issue permits to themselves. Steven Salmon said the system is in such disarray that nobody knows how many permits there are, and how many vehicles operated with them.
“It’s difficult to get to the bottom of how many there are because [until recently] the permits were issued for an indefinite period,” he said. Martin Allen added: The issuing authorities must have a reference to the permits issued. Regarding issuing permits, I believe it should be under the authority of the Traffic Commissioners.”
“That would be a good starting point,” agreed Mr Salmon. “To know how many vehicles are being operated with S19.”
Asked whether any size of CTO was typical of those contesting tendered contracts, Mr Salmon said there was no pattern. He said Ealing Community Transport had bid for contracts both in London and elsewhere, and operators had been aggrieved when they won them without the burden of O licensing and driver training.
Martin Allen said the West Midlands was one area where huge swathes of contracts had been awarded to S19 holders, involving vehicles from eight to 48 seats, and sums in excess of £11m a year, some openly employing drivers on a wage. He said the pattern seemed to follow the areas with the most money, citing Lincolnshire as an example of a poorer rural area in which there was low CTO activity.
“The contracts are mainly home-to-school and supported bus services. Within the M25 there are a lot of business including HCT [Hackney Community Transport] operating under S19 permits… but built businesses with public money.” He said in the North East, one CTO had O licensing but he alleged they used S19 permits ‘to get around driving hours regulation.’
“If you go back a long way, maybe to the 1985 Act, there has been competition is some places in the maket of hiring small vehicles with a driver, and also in the day trips market. Some of our members had quite good businesses taking groups of people, maybe to the coast, and they found that CTOs were…. doing it cheaper… at prices our members couldn’t afford to do it.
“In terms of contracts, this has been more recent, with CTOs seeking to spread their overheads or get new sources of income to replace grants….In terms of why some areas and not others, I saw a presentation about part of Wales where CTOs flourished in the areas where there were more people with more time and more money. In areas where whole communities were up against it, for example poor hill farming areas, there was virtually no community transport because people didn’t have time and money.”
l See the whole of the committee hearing at https://goo.gl/wtNRjp