Community Transport (Structure and Operation)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 19 June 2013.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the structure and operation of the community transport system across the country. (S4O-02263)

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government recognises the valuable service that the community transport sector provides and applauds the volunteers who give their time to help to provide those services, which are very much appreciated by their users.

The nature of the services differs from area to area due to a range of factors, such as how individual local authorities assess needs and allocate budgets in their area.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Many elderly people who are eligible for a free bus pass rely heavily on community transport, whose merits the minister has just lauded. They regard community transport as an essential support, but they have to pay for the facility. Does the minister accept that that is both illogical and unfair? Does he agree that a much fairer system would be achieved by raising the age of eligibility to 65 in line with the pension age, extending the concessionary travel scheme to community transport, and thereby removing the current unfortunate discrimination?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Applying concessionary travel to the community transport sector throws up a number of issues. For example, the current campaign that Age Scotland is running asks for a 100 per cent reimbursement rate, whereas our current system delivers around 60 per cent reimbursement, and because of the nature of community transport, which involves taxis, mopeds and bicycles, it would be very difficult to get the infrastructure that is necessary to the concessionary scheme to audit that. There is also the cost, of course, which has been estimated at in excess of £11 million before implementation. If a completely free service is provided, it is, of course, likely that usage will go up. There are real issues to do with the sustainability of the scheme.

The Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee is considering the matter in detail. I await its findings to see what lessons the Government can take from its investigation of the area.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

I previously wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth about the plight of the Annandale Transport Initiative, whose fleet of buses desperately needs to be renewed. Are Government discussions with the Community Transport Association and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations likely to result in the establishment of a fund to help groups such as the Annandale Transport Initiative to replace vehicles?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

We are looking at that area and many people within the community transport sector would see that as a more pressing demand than the extension of concessionary travel that was mentioned.

If the Government was to do something on that, it would also be important to consider how we could encourage community transport providers to use buses that are more environmentally friendly, as we did with the green bus fund. The matter is being considered at this time.

Photo of Margaret McCulloch Margaret McCulloch Labour

On Annabel Goldie’s question, the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee has heard that around 60 per cent of community transport initiatives were created during the lifetime of the rural community transport initiative and the urban demand-response transport funding streams. Since those funding streams were rolled into the concordat with local authorities, only nine new groups have emerged.

Does the minister believe that the concordat and the single outcome agreements are properly supporting the development of community transport, given the excessive funding pressures on councils?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

To be honest, I think that that question would be best directed at councils. The principle of the concordat and the fact that we eliminated ring fencing almost completely from the grants that we give to local authorities were because we recognise that local authorities, as distinct from any other governmental body, have their own democratic mandate. It is up to them to take decisions on the issue.

I was a local authority councillor for many years and we were pretty fed up with the Government telling us where we should spend our money. The idea of the concordat was that councils should be responsible for that. If councils have not invested in the areas in which local people have an interest, it is for local people to make that point to their local elected representatives and, of course, they can make those representatives accountable at the ballot box. We support the concordat even if sometimes it does not have the outcomes that we would like—that is a democratic inevitability of the system.