A message from Cavus Batki (Chair of the Board) and Paul Riddick (CEO)
The need for community transport continues to increase. Gloucestershire’s population is ageing fast and with it, the number of people without access to transport. Funding to local authorities, the NHS and to us continues to decline in real terms. We expect an additional 2,000 service users and requests for 45,000 more journeys a year by 2020. This year has seen the charity develop its response to this challenge.
One of our key improvements you will have seen this year has been a new, much simpler fare structure – £1 per mile transported with a £5 minimum. For service users, most journeys are just as good value and pricing is much simpler and more consistent. For our office staff, the removal of the zonal system makes for a much simpler and more efficient workflow.
Other improvements this year include much needed repairs to our frontage and a trial of new Ford minibuses – let us know how these compare to your usual ride. We have also started to offer a few weekend journeys where they are really needed. We expect increasing demand for weekend journeys as the 7-day NHS ramps up we and need weekend volunteers to help.
We would like to thank every volunteer and member of staff for their efforts this year. Our volunteers make the charity what we are. To recognise this we have adjusted the management team to place a greater focus on finding more volunteers and making volunteering for us an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
This year has seen little progress with our biggest challenge – the change in regulation discussed at length in the last AGM. This is explained in more detail on the following pages. So far the main consequence for Community Connexions is that we will have to win a competitive tender with Gloucestershire County Council for our community transport funding. We may also have to change our legal structure, apply for additional permits and licenses, and to use drivers with a commercial license.
We have received strong support from Gloucestershire County Council and local MPs, with Alex Chalk in particular championing our cause. We remain positive that the outcome will allow us to continue our work and we are putting ourselves in the strongest possible position.
What has changed?
Currently, the special status of community transport is recognised. As a charity, a non-commercial organisation, we operate under “permits”. These allow us to provide a safe and cost-effective service. A group of commercial operators have argued current practices are unlawful under EU regulation EC1071/2009. They argue that community transport providers such as Community Connexions should be regulated as commercial organisations.
How might Community Connexions be affected?
The situation is still changing with the DfT responding to strong political pressure. If current proposals are implemented as they are:
- Community Connexions will have to win a competitive tender against commercial operators for our community transport funding
- We will have to change our legal structure, separating volunteer car operations from other work
- We will have to apply for a bus operator’s license
- Our minibus drivers will need a commercial driving license and certificate of professional competence
- Of course, all of this will cost a substantial amount of money and take time
Which operations could be affected?
Any journeys using minibuses or paid drivers would be directly affected, for example shopper buses, school transport and transport of wheelchairs. Regulation of volunteer car journeys would not change but our ability to provide these journeys would be affected since they are co-ordinated by the same team.
What support do you have?
Nationally, Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk has spoken on our behalf in two debates in the Houses of Parliament. He also brought Transport Secretary Jesse Norman to visit us last year. Other Gloucestershire MPs have also given their support.
Locally, we have strong support from Cllr Tim Harman, trustee and Cllr Nigel Moor, cabinet member for fire, planning and infrastructure. Both believe in us and are fighting on our behalf.
When will we know what the government proposes?
The government has said it will announce its response to the consultation in the autumn.
How might change affect Community Connexions?
Our charity has existed for over 34 years and its purpose has been to provide transport services to those who need us most. Change may be inevitable but the charity is used to change. What we can say is that we are prepared to change to accommodate any new directives from the Department for Transport and we do this for the sake of our existing and future customers.