The CTA 2014 Annual Conference for England
Rob Orchard reports on the state of Community Transport
The CTA (Community Transport Association) annual policy conference for England is always an interesting event usually characterised by excellent speakers and this year’s event held in London last week was no exception.
The event was opened by the CTA’s Chairman, Dr Stephen Hickey, who then went on to act as Facilitator for the majority of the conference. He began by introducing Duncan Sloan, Director of Community Banking at RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland). He welcomed delegates to the Conference which was held in the RBS Auditorium. This was Duncan’s last time as host as he is retiring and Dr Hickey thanked him for the huge assistance that RBS has given the CTA over many years.
Baroness Kramer MP
The first speaker was Baroness Kramer who became Minister of State for Transport in October 2013. She began by assuring the audience that the Government values highly the contribution that the sector makes in providing transport services to the disadvantaged in society, especially its contribution to tackling social exclusion and isolation, particularly in rural areas. She praised the sector for the way it had dealt with, and was dealing with, the cuts in funding that had been necessary for the Coalition to bring the nation’s dire economic situation under control. The Department, she said, recognised the vulnerability of the sector caused by the economic situation, particularly the smaller organisations who were finding it difficult to update their equipment because of the serious decline in grant funding. It was, she said, for this reason that the Government had announced the new £25m fund which will be used to exclusively enable these operators to purchase new vehicles.
Typical of much new legislation brought in by the Government, the details of how this fund will be distributed are not yet available but she stressed that this detail will be published on the Dept’s website within days – not weeks. She also emphasised that the fund was ring-fenced for its purpose. An important announcement because previous funding which was intended to help the CT sector had not been ring-fenced and much of it had been siphoned off and did not benefit the sector, for which the Government has been widely criticised.
She was at pains to point out that the Prime Minister’s statement after the Scottish Referendum that there would be greater devolvement of authority to the regions would happen and quickly. This devolvement, she said, would bring increased responsibilities for CT operations and it is vital that the sector is fully involved in those discussions at a regional level. ‘Don’t sit back,’ she said, ‘get in there, make sure your voice is heard and that you play a key part in how regional policies are formulated’.
She also said that the Dept was putting a lot of effort into stopping transport from being siloed. She stressed that transport impinges on the work of many other Government Departments particularly Health, Education and Work and Pensions. ‘It has to be an integral part of discussions these Departments are having about their services and not just tacked on at the end,’ she said. She said that she was having meaningful discussions with the Dept of Health and especially Clinical Commissioning Groups to ensure that community transport operators are given the opportunity to bid for work in the Sector. She said that there is no sense, in these hard economic times, for the Dept for Health to be spending its resources on vehicles to move non-emergency patients about, vehicles which will spend most of their time idle. Far better she said to utilise the spare capacity within the CT sector.
Baroness Kramer dealt only briefly with the thorny subject of whether CTs are being given an unfair advantage over commercial operators but she did say that whatever the outcome of the current actions the Government would find ways of continuing to support community transport – ‘it’s contribution to the nation’s wellbeing is too valuable to lose,’ she said.
She finished by praising the CTA for the work that it is doing and particularly praised its recently issued State of the Sector Report which she said was widely recognised throughout the Coalition Government as being a document of great value and was being taken very seriously.
Gordon Marsden MP
The Minister was followed at the podium by Gordon Marsden, Shadow Minister for Transport. He is President of Rideability, a door-to-door bus service for disabled people living in his constituency of Blackpool. He began by saying that the Labour Party values highly the work done by CT groups in tackling social exclusion and rural isolation. Rural transport costs he said are 20-30% higher than in urban areas. He said his party are committed to local organisations being given back responsibility for all public transport and if his party come to power they will devolve £1.2bn from the Transport Budget to these local organisations.
He said his party recognised that there needed to be a level playing field in bidding for local services and that CT must be an integral part of that. He used as an example the Blackpool Rideability scheme which he said works and could be a model used elsewhere.
He too touched on the question of competition with commercial operators and said that if his party comes to power in May it will work to create harmony and trust between the two sectors but he did warn that his party would not allow the CT sector to be unfairly attacked by the commercial sector.
CTA Chief Executive, Bill Freeman’s subject was the recently issued State of the Sector Report. They had started, he said, by investigating the different types of community transport providers; the urban/rural distribution of these organisations; vehicles, licences and permits used; the diversity of services provided and service users.
They found that 72% of organisations operate community transport as their primary purpose; 21% operate community transport as a significant part of their activities, but not their primary purpose and 7% operate community transport as a minor component of their overall activities.
Breaking those figures down 16% of organisations were found to be operating about equally in urban and rural areas; 31% were mostly rural but with some urban; 24% were mostly urban but with some rural; 21% were exclusively rural and 9% were exclusively urban.
The vast majority of CTs (79%) operate using Section 19 standard bus permits and 71% of them operate wheelchair accessible minibuses.
They found that 61% of organisations provide door-to-door accessible minibus services; 59% run group hire services where the organisation itself provides the driver; 38% provide community car schemes and 36% run group hire services without providing a driver. Many organisations operate one or more of these categories alongside each other.
Looking more closely at the work CTs do they found that 98% of community transport organisations assist elderly people; 85% help people with disabilities or restricted mobility; 55% benefit socially or geographically isolated people or communities; 31% provide services to children; 24% benefit teenagers; 17% help people from ethnic minorities and 31% provide services to other members of the general public.
Going forward Bill said the key areas the CTA was concentrating on are developing clear workable rules and regulations for community transport; establishing a healthy funding mix; making volunteering more accessible and maximising the contribution that CTs can make in the area of health transport.
He went on to detail the recommendations made in the report. The CTA was urging the Government (whatever its colour) to work closely with the national governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and any organisations that gain increased powers as a result of the planned devolution of powers within England, together with the representatives of local government to defend the UK’s unique arrangements for enabling a thriving community transport sector.
They urge those commissioning transport to actively consider community transport when developing proposals for socially necessary services. He further recommended that CTA and ATCO (Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers) should work together to recommend appropriate social value criteria around the commissioning of transport services.
They called on the Government to ensure that all passengers are able to use their concessionary pass on agreed forms of community transport, e.g. Dial-a-Ride, regardless of where they live.
The Government, Bill said, should heed the ongoing concerns expressed by community transport operators and note that, as non-profit-making organisations, they are less likely to generate sufficient surplus to enable them to build up reserves; and it should consider occasional capital investment as a means of support to the sector in all parts of the UK.
He also called on the Government to support community transport and enable more young and willing volunteers to become D1 licence compliant.
Bill also called on the Government to promote better joint working between health, local government and community transport, with community transport actively considered as a fully funded option for patient transport.
Geoff Warren is Development Manager at ECT (formerly Ealing Community Transport) but he was speaking on behalf of the London Community Transport Strategic Forum. His subject was how the sector can demonstrate its social value.
Valuing the social outcomes of CT, said Geoff, demonstrates that CT brings real added value and builds further trust with commissioning agencies, local authorities, NHS etc. It enables organisations to be better placed to get CT services and proposals accepted.
The stance LCTSF has adopted recognises that one standard approach does not fit the sector but by applying overall standards all sectors can benefit. They are developing consistent ways of collecting core data – booking, scheduling and surveying; analysing and reporting data; and calculating social value per person trip category. Evaluating these outcomes gives an outline understanding of what users and other stakeholders see as social benefits. Typically these are enabling independent living; facilitating social interaction; enabling affordable trips for deprived groups; supporting volunteering and the voluntary sector; contributing to individuals’ wellbeing and contributing to individuals’ health
There are huge challenges facing voluntary, health and social care sectors said Geoff. These are particularly a growing and ageing population; structural change for the NHS and council budgets rapidly declining
By expressing the full value of the services and outcomes that CT can provide, Geoff said, makes it easier to convince statutory and funding bodies that Community Transport can be a valuable part of the solution.
Peter Jefferson is CEO of Cornwall Rural Community Charity (CRCC). The principal work of CRCC is the development of a statutory and voluntary sector response to Cornwall’s rural transport challenges, the development of internet connection solutions for rural areas and supporting the self-reliance of Cornwall’s rural communities as statutory service provision withdraws further.
He gave details of work they have carried out to try and quantify the real value of community transport. They had studied the work done by the Launceston Little Red Bus and tried to put a monetary value on the work this voluntary organisation actually produces.
At the end of their deliberations they found that the service had provided over half a million pounds (£500,000) worth of service to Cornwall in return for funding input of just £42,000, clearly demonstrating the value of voluntary operated community transport.
He further showed that this had produced 12,500 hours of social interaction helping 250 people. This had provided disadvantaged individuals with the opportunity to engage with others, develop friendships and improve their mental health. It also provided significant economic benefit to the wider community.
Karishma Chandaria and Jamie O’Hara
Karishma and Jamie put on a double header asking the audience to focus on the needs of dementia suffers. It is a feature of the CTA Conference to select an area of use/need and put the spotlight on it.
Karishma is head of the Dementia Friendly Communities Programme at the Alzheimer’s Society, James O’Hara actually works for TfL but he has been seconded to Chair the Prime Minister’s Task and Finish Group on building a dementia friendly transport network.
They gave the audience the facts about Dementia. Currently 850,000 people suffer from dementia in the UK. That is projected to rise to 1,142,677 by 2025 and will top two million by 2050, that’s the equivalent of the combined population of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool combined. Dementia costs the country £23.4bn per year and over half of that is made up by unpaid care. Loneliness is a key factor of dementia with 62% of suffers living alone feeling lonely and a third of all sufferers living alone. Whilst 61% are managing to cope with dementia well, 17% are not.
They said there was an urgent need for all transport operators to recognise the importance that transport plays in the lives of dementia patients and the difficulties they can have with it. They said there is an urgent need for operators to train their staff to recognise the signs of patients with dementia and to be taught how to deal with them.
Some of the difficulties that dementia sufferers face when using public transport were highlighted. They become frustrated because they can hear what they are being told and that information may be clear in their head but they cannot get the body/brain to react to the information. They typically have very poor balance and spatial awareness and this can make them go into defence mode which is often misinterpreted by non-suffers as aggression. There is a tendency for people to talk loudly at dementia suffers believing them to be deaf when actually what they are trying to do is assimilate the information you are trying to give them.
These problems with perception and comprehension mean that people with dementia find it difficult to make unfamiliar journeys unaccompanied or to cope with changes to the journey, typically delays or cancellations. Remember, said Karishma, that dementia is not a visible disease so it may not be immediately apparent to your staff that a person has the disease but they need to be ready to spot the signals and deal with them accordingly
What’s important for people with dementia is to be able to make choices about transport; being able to access information before travelling; accessing information during travelling; coping with the journey and most of all sympathetic support from staff.
CT has a major role to play because it provides demand responsive transport services that fills gaps that exist between commercial transport services; CT can provide a consistent and personalised service – the familiarity of drivers and workers to service users. CT staff tend to be already trained and geared up to deal with people with dementia.
The objectives of the group are to identify the role of the transport sector in a dementia friendly community; review and bring together the evidence for the transport sector drawing on best practice; identify and establish benchmarks around how the transport sector can become dementia-friendly and understand how the industry can help create the tools and resources for transport operators to operate in a dementia-friendly way.
Certainly a very thought provoking presentation.
Liz Prudhoe from ADAPT North East is a Director of Adapt which is based in Hexham in Northumberland. She was awarded North East Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012 in the Social Enterprise category for her work with ADAPT, where she has steered the organisation away from a total reliance on charity funding to a more sustained funding base.
I know both Liz and ADAPT well, living just over the border in Cumbria where we face many similar problems in tackling social isolation in very rural areas. ADAPT provide a range of services from community transport through to specialist services for the Health Service, disabled and specialist needs youngsters and Wheels to Work.
ADAPT works with a number of individual CTs across Northumberland pooling their vehicle resources to cover a range of services so that vehicles are fully utilised. Typically vehicles will do special education needs journeys in the early morning and late afternoon but operate dial-a-ride services for the elderly in between.
Her message was clear and simple. Understand the needs in your area, understand the providers and then devise a system to work together to provide the best possible outcome for the customer. Working together, she said, we can tackle social isolation sustainably.
The last session of the conference brought in a couple of big hitters: Beverley Bell, Senior Traffic Commissioner and also Traffic Commissioner for the North West and Leon Daniels, MD Surface Transport at TfL.
The feisty Mrs Bell is an excellent speaker able to put some strong points over but do it with a lot of humour. She talked at some length about Section 19 permits and said that her Commissioners take the issuing of Section 19 permits very seriously and they do monitor closely that they are being used properly. She would prefer all Section 19 permits to be issued by Traffic Commissioners, a view I’ve heard expressed before, but she still felt they were on top of monitoring their use.
She dealt in some detail about both vehicle safety and driver safety encouraging all CT operators to work to the guidelines issued on these subjects by her Department.
She urged operators to work much more closely with their local Traffic Commissioner. ‘We want to work more closely with you,’ she said, ‘because together we can develop best practice right across the sector, and that is in everyone’s interest.’
Leon Daniels is another excellent speaker whose speeches are always uplifting and are peppered with quirky illustrations that get the message over. He said that they had to work together to change the perception of what CTs are and do and the vital part they play in the public transport mix. He said it was necessary to do this not only with the target market but with other transport operators, elected representatives and the person in the street.
He said the sector had to grow and established CTs had to be prepared to grow even if they have resisted it in the past. It was inevitable that the burden on CTs to fill the gaps will grow and that won’t be easy with the squeeze on funding.
Leon urged all CTs to make sure that their Trustees really are working for the organisation and not merely acting as figureheads. These people, he said, often have significant lobbying power and can often open up paths to funding.
He went on to say that with the election coming up it was vital that CTs lobbied local prospective MPs and Councillors to make sure they understood the value of CT and had it in their manifestos.
Debbie Rotchell has been with Harwich Connexions since it was set up in 2003 to provide a range of CT solutions in the Harwich area of Essex. She spearheaded the group’s decision to apply for the CTA Quality Mark. This had been of major benefit to the organisation and she urged all CTs to go for it. She said the discipline of applying for the mark was hugely beneficial. It made you thoroughly examine what you are doing, make changes where they are needed and end up knowing that your organisation is the best it can be. The follow up process means that you are constantly reviewing what you do and improving.
She recognised that it involved a lot of hard work and thought this was what put many organisations off from applying but stressed it was worth it. For them it had brought recognition of being a professional operation, enabled them to establish clearer, defined policies and procedures, had boosted staff confidence and given them all pride in what they are doing.
She said that achieving the quality mark had opened doors for them because funders and grant awarding bodies had a greater confidence in you, the customer had increased confidence that they were dealing with a professional organisation and it had opened the door to a number of useful marketing opportunities.
She finished by saying simply – Just do it, you won’t regret it.
A packed agenda filled with excellent speakers and thought provoking practical presentations. There is no doubt that the CT sector, like the rest of the passenger transport industry, is facing tough times but it is equally clear that the determination to continue to look after the disadvantaged in society is as strong as ever.