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Licence change could strand community transport passengers

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Tens of thousands of people who depend on council-organised community transport services could face isolation following more demanding government advice on licensing drivers.

That warning has come from Community Transport Association (CTA) after the Department for Transport changed its long-held view that drivers working for non-commercial organisations do not normally need a public service vehicle (PSV) licence or certificate of professional competence but can work using licences that are cheaper and less onerous to obtain.

The DfT will issue formal guidance once it has consulted on the advice, which was issued following a legal challenge to an unnamed operator’s arrangements.

Any change would affect services tendered by councils as drivers could face retraining and requalification, though the position of concerns that do not compete for contracts is less clear.

Community transport is typically used to help people reach amenities or to link up rural araes that lack conventional bus routes.

In a protest letter to transport minister Jesse Norman, CTA chief executive Bill Freeman said he wrote “on behalf of tens of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens who rely on community transport to have a better quality of life and now face some real risks to the care they receive”.

A CTA statement said: “We suspect that we are talking about hundreds of charities who may be impacted in some way, and thousands of their employees, but most crucially it’s the quality of life and independence of tens of thousands of people who rely on community transport.

“At the moment community transport has its own training and permit regime which has a cost, but it is fair to say that obtaining PSV licenses for organisations and [new licences] for individuals will be a significant cost to many organisations.”

Suffolk CC is one local authority which is predicting it would be affected by the proposed changes. Cabinet member for highways and transport James Finch (Con) said in 2016-17 some 150,000 journeys were made as part of Suffolk’s Connecting Communities service of community transport vehicles, which has 40 contracts worth £1.3m in all.

A Local Government Association spokesperson said: “We’re aware of this issue and it’s potential to impact community transport, which plays a huge role in helping some of our most vulnerable residents travel around their communities and live a full life.

“While we await further consultation and guidance from the Department for Transport we stand ready to work with councils, community transport providers and government to make sure that we find the best way forward.”

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