Clause 54

Part of Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 6th May 2008.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:45 pm, 6th May 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 243, in clause 54, page 47, line 33, at end insert—

‘(4A) In subsection (2)(b) after “permit”, insert “or has undertaken such training for drivers of vehicles for the purpose of community transport as the Secretary of State shall by order define.”.

(4B) In subsection (2) after paragraph (c) insert—

“(d) the driver is not employed by, nor is the vehicle owned by, an operator whose annual turnover is more than £150,000 per annum, or such higher amount as the Secretary of State may by order define.”’.

As I said on Second Reading, any proposals with the consequence of helping community transport will certainly enjoy my support, and the clause will do that by allowing larger vehicles to be used for community transport and by removing the prohibition on paying drivers of community transport vehicles.

The clause is very welcome, but not perfect. I have two major concerns, which are reflected in my proposals. The first proposal is important, because it goes to the question of safety. We want to introduce words that would ensure that community transport drivers were adequately trained. Later this year, a new certificate of professional competence will be introduced for drivers of other buses and coaches. The CPC will be issued on behalf of the Department for Transport, in accordance with the law, and will be a requirement for all professional bus drivers, in addition to a driving licence.

Rightly in my opinion, the CPC is not a requirement for drivers of community vehicles—we want to establish greater community transport. However, there is specialist community transport training available in the form of MIDAS—the minibus driver awareness scheme. Therefore, although community transport drivers do not face the higher test, the lower test would help to ensure safety. MIDAS addresses issues such as driver confidence and passenger safety and comfort. That is a useful way forward and something that the Secretary of State could define by order: community transport drivers would get the specialist training required for their vehicles, giving reassurance to those using that transport but without having to fulfil the much higher test.

Another proposal looks at what we might call the social businesses or the not-for-dividend sector. A number of community transport schemes provide an excellent service, but I am concerned at the scope for some non-professional bus operators to take advantage  of a loophole in the legislation. There are a number of operators who turn over large amounts and who, potentially, would not require a licence.

I want to ensure that cowboy operations do not take advantage of the rules for community transport providers. The amendment relates to those community transport organisations, which are clearly focused on being not for dividend, although they follow some commercial strictures. For example, we all know that Ealing Community Transport provides an excellent service across the country and it decidedly could not be called a cowboy. However, unless there is a turnover test—I am not sure that I have got the turnover level right—the clause could become a loophole for cowboys to provide a service under the guise of community transport, which is a term that should describe organisations that provide transport in communities for those who have difficulty getting around or that provide a service in excess of the norm. Perhaps a number of charities and others would use it.

These proposals are important. Will the Minister give reassurance that the turnover test is not necessary? If it is not necessary, will she explain how cowboy bus operators will be prevented from using the clause? Will she also us why the lower level of driver training cannot be put in place relatively cheaply to provide some reassurance to those people who will use community transport?