MAJOR BOOST TO THE CAMPAIGN FOR A RURAL STRATEGY:
The Independent Food, Farming & Countryside Commission hosted by the RSA in its report launched on Tuesday 16th July ‘Our Future in the Land’ has added its voice to the calls by the RSN and the House of Lords Select Committee for a comprehensive Rural Strategy (more to follow)
Transport minister Jesse Norman confirmed the forthcoming consultation in response to a parliamentary question by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.
It follows concern that the government has decided community transport operators bidding for local authority bus service contracts may require a PSV (Public Service Vehicle) operator licence.
This is a particular concern for community transport providers who a valued provider of important local bus services in rural areas across the country.
Mr Lamb said many community transport operators were concerned that they could be pushed under by the government's interpretation of the rules.
See also: Licence concern for community transport
This could result in the loss of vital rural community transport links, he said.
Mr Lamb asked Mr Norman: “What is the timescale for the consultation? When will it actually come in, because the uncertainty is very dangerous?
Jesse Norman said he fully recognised Mr Lamb's concern, and he pledged: “There will be no rapid over-enforcement.”
Mr Norman said the government would give people as much chance as possible to show that their activities were not commercial in the required sense.
“We will launch the consultation later this autumn and then take it from there,” he added.
Concern about the new rules – and a call for clarification – were also raised by Stephen Metcalfe, MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, Essex.
“I recently met Basildon community transport, which expressed grave concerns and is already pointing at a neighbouring community transport operator closing because of the uncertainty.
Earlier, Witney MP Robert Courts said community transport played a vital role connecting communities in his rural west Oxfordshire constituency.
Such groups were worried about the impact of the issue, he added.
Mr Courts asked Mr Norman to confirm that local community groups registered as not-for-profit wouldn't be seen as commercial providers even if they paid a driver and took fares.
Jesse Norman said the government “very strongly” supported community transport operators.
The government had been under some pressure to clarify the rules regarding local transport operators who are tacitly operating commercially, said Mr Norman.
Transport authorities facing difficulties should contact the Department for Transport or talk to the Community Transport Association, he added.
The Hansard record of the parliamentary debate which included this exchange is here.
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