The future of community transport in North Norfolk could be put under threat if new rules force providers to apply for expensive operator licenses, Norman Lamb warned in the House of Commons today.
Speaking in Transport Questions, the North Norfolk MP urged the Government to clarify whether services in North Norfolk will now have to apply for the licenses, after local community transport groups raised concerns that the cost of doing so could push their businesses under.
Under the current system, community transport providers operating on a non-profit basis have been able to apply for permits allowing them to carry passengers without first holding the Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence.
However, there has been growing controversy around the different treatment of commercial and non-commercial businesses, and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) recently ruled that one non-commercial service was failing to comply with legal operating requirements by not holding a full license.
The Government subsequently confirmed that other non-commercial services could now be expected to hold a full PSV operator’s licence and use drivers with specific qualifications. However, the Department for Transport has not announced which companies the new operating requirements will apply, or when a proposed consultation will begin. It says that while not all local community transport providers will be affected by the new ruling, it “is likely to affect larger operators in what may in effect be commercial operations”.
Community transport providers in North Norfolk now face significant uncertainty as to whether – and when – they will be expected to comply with the new requirements. There are also concerns about the cost of training drivers up to the new standards, which could see some organisations become non-viable.
In the House of Commons, Norman pressed the Government to end the ‘dangerous’ uncertainty for community transport providers, and to set a date for the long-awaited consultation. He asked:
“Many community transport operators, including North Norfolk Community Transport, are concerned that the new ruling will push them under, losing absolutely vital rural community transport links. What is the minister doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen, and what is the timescale for the consultation – when will this actually come in? Because the uncertainty is very dangerous.”
The Transport Minister, Jesse Norman MP, responded:
“I fully recognise the concern. As he will know, the Department is taking a very careful attitude. There will be no rapid over-enforcement on this. We will be giving people as much chance as possible to show that their activities are not commercial in the required sense. We launch the consultation later this autumn and I think we’ll take it from there.”
Commenting afterwards, Norman Lamb said:
“There is a real uncertainty hanging over community transport providers in North Norfolk and across the whole country. These organisations provide vital transport services for many villages, and are particularly important for elderly and disabled people who otherwise face being isolated. I have real concerns that this ongoing uncertainty could have serious consequences by leaving transport services unable to plan for the year ahead.
“It was disappointing that the Government failed to set a firm date for the consultation or clarify when the new requirements will come into effect. I will be writing to the Transport Secretary to demand clarification on these points.”
Read the full story in the Eastern Daily Press