MP urges Department of Transport to cherish community transport schemes

Rishi Sunak with Walter Head, operations manager of the Little White Bus at Hawes, right, who raised the regulations issue with him earlier this year, and one of the volunteer drivers.

Richmond MP Rishi Sunak has urged the Department of Transport to cherish the efforts of volunteers as it considers changes to the regulations governing community transport operators.

The plea comes amid fears that Richmondshire community transport schemes such as the Little White Bus could be lost because of proposed changes to the law.

The Government is consulting local authorities on proposed changes after being found to have incorrectly interpreted EU legislation into guidance following a challenge by commercial operators, who claimed community transport operators had an unfair advantage.

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The proposals would make changes to UK legislation to align those provisions with exemptions set out in the EU legislation and update the available guidance.

The current guidance gives exemptions to community transport organisation so they do not need to have an operator’s licence. This licence requires operators to incur additional costs for such things as a qualified transport manager and for drivers to be fully qualified to professional standards.

Mr Sunak has written to Transport Minister, Jesse Norman, in support of North Yorkshire County Council’s response to the consultation.

He said: “I have stressed to the Minister the need to bear in mind the special circumstances that apply in rural areas like North Yorkshire.

“While it is entirely correct that commercial bus operators should not be placed at a disadvantage, in rural areas the majority of the services provided by community operators are not commercially attractive.

“It is vital that we do not place unduly onerous administrative and regulatory burdens on small organisations, many of them run entirely by volunteers.”

Mr Sunak said he had been in contact with a number of community transport operators in his constituency, including Bedale Community Transport, The Bridge at Catterick Garrison and The Little White Bus at Hawes, who had expressed concern about the impact of the amended legislation and the proposed guidance governing exemptions from the regulations.

He added: “The Government clearly needs to bring our guidance into line with the EU regulation because we are still EU members. But we need to be careful we don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut and jeopardise the tremendous efforts made by community transport operators so that residents can access key services and employment.”

Mr Sunak said he was proud of the Government’s record in supporting the community transport sector – primarily through the £25m Community Minibus Fund. A number of organisations in the Richmond constituency had benefited from the Fund.

In his letter to the Minister, he added: “With that in mind, that we need to do everything possible to support these organisations in their valuable work and not do anything that inhibits their ability to operate in areas where service provision is challenging.”

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