Community Transport on Wirral may be in last chance saloon.
Word reaches His Lordship from a supremely well-informed source that the writing is on the wall for community transport services here on Wirral. These are the trained drivers, escorts and specially kitted out vehicles that transport disabled and vulnerable service users to their day centres, care homes, Special Educational Needs schools, etc. day in, day out, all year round.
And we don’t bring you this news lightly. We know it’s genuine because we’ve had the information checked and double-checked. It impacts Wirral Council, goes right to the heart of central government, to the top of the EU, and it’s a thorny issue being discussed right now at the top transport committees in the UK.
Here is a link to the Community Transport parliamentary debate of 10th May this year:
A change in EU law, Directive EC 1071/2009 to be specific, was rolled out on the statute book in 2011 and appears to be done and dusted across Europe. But there is a frantic panic back in Blighty because the Tory government ignored it when it emerged seven years ago.
So it’s now finally caught up with them, and under the new directive, the largest council contracted charity and not for profit operators with hundreds of vehicles, right down to the smallest with half a dozen, will in future be regarded as running a ‘commercial operation’. This will entail these organisations applying for Operators’ Licences for the business, new licences for all drivers and 35 hours of training every five years for everybody who sets foot on a vehicle.
In other words, it involves big money ……….huge money. Money they probably ain’t got.
The impact of this change threatens to be utterly catastrophic to the many community transport services that make up the majority of the UK charity, not-for-profit market, and if the new rules are not modified, or their impact lessened, the sheer cost of meeting the requirements will force many of them to downsize massively or be forced out of business.
As is customary, the usual suspects at basket case Wirral Council seem to be busy making a bad situation even worse.
Transport Minister Chris Grayling wrote to all local authorities two weeks ago requesting that they bide their time, await his advice and do not remove any contracts from existing operators. What have Wirral Council been doing? Yep, removing contracts from existing operators. Not only this, they are forcing them to apply for Operators’ Licences (O Licences) and to set up trading arms in order to be ready to act commercially.
Wirral Leaks readers will know that Wirral Council happens to operate its own transport service, mainly to private care homes because they will recall the young disabled girl a few weeks back, who was forgotten and left locked inside a vehicle alone for two and half hours in the council depot. Read here : Transport Trauma
Where transport rules and regs are concerned, Wirral Council really should know better, because they have a former VOSA / DVSA expert on hand in the shape of Director of Transformation, Paul Satoor (and for good measure former Tory council leader Jeff Green).
But despite this inside source of knowledge, they appear to be immune to the rules. Rules which they enjoy applying to everyone but themselves, as they flex their muscles, throw their weight around and community transport charities under the bus !
They’re even accusing their own charity operators on Wirral of “acting illegally” whilst taking payments from private care homes in return for transporting their residents.
This conduct is potentially illegal under what are known as Section 19 permits. These were originally set up to allow the community transport charities to operate, but which clearly stipulate “for hire or reward but without a view to profit nor incidentally to an activity that is itself carried on with a view to profit”.
In fact, this is like Wirral View all over again as they’re the only council in the land prepared to defy the government on this. But this time it’s not just powderpuff guidance being swept aside. It’s knowingly done, whilst forcing charities (but not themselves) down the O Licence route, and whilst secretly taking money and enriching themselves, but falsely accusing others of doing the same. So the council could be in breach of statutory law.
Merseycare are the largest operator on Wirral, providing a transport service for 3,000 vulnerable and disabled service users, and are based on the old Squibbs site in Leasowe. They have 90 staff whose jobs are imminently threatened, many of whom are disabled themselves.
Before the May 2017 local elections, they invited former Leasowe Councillor Treena Johnson to come and have a chat about this subject and to have a look at what they do. She said as she worked with disabled children, she would be delighted. She asked if she could bring along a second Leasowe councillor, Anita Leech.
Interestingly, a professional body known as the Bus and Coach Organisation – whose members are made up of commercial operators – have been pressurising government for many years and quoting the above EU law in order to have them declare community transport contracts illegal and to have all such council business – the length and breadth of the UK – stripped from ‘law-breaking’ not for profit, charity operators.
Presumably, this is being done with the aim of stepping into the void to enable their Bus and Coach Organisation members to make a tidy profit out of the UK’s now stranded vulnerable and disabled service users.That third Leasowe Councillor by the way is Ron Abbey. He is a former bus driver for ‘the Corpy’. We wonder if he might still retain undeclared links to the Bus & Coach Organisation? What an interesting coincidence that would be… perhaps somebody out there knows…?
Nevertheless, as Merseycare Transport waited, Councillors Treena Johnson and Anita Leach suddenly fell silent ….the kettle was on and everything, but they never even turned up at the Merseycare offices. Johnson jacked it in as a councillor before the last local elections and presumably the other two were ordered to toe the party line.
We can safely assume from Wirral Council’s pioneering activities in being the only local authority to remove contracts from charity operators that they are keen to embrace a new future – where no doubt the lowest bidders with the least experience will be transporting vulnerable people – and they want to be at the forefront of creating it. And you only have to look at the railways to see how that works out!
We’re wondering…. where does Wirral Council’s statutory obligation to look out for the wellbeing of vulnerable and disabled people within their jurisdiction figure in all of this? Notice how time and again they pay lip service and mouth the mantra ‘ protecting vulnerable people’ – but the reality is something else altogether.
When approached, Angela Eagle, the Wallasey MP who covers Leasowe seemed like a possible way forward with this issue.
However Eagle, who did nothing publicly for her own disabled constituents when they had £736,756.97 removed unlawfully from their bank accounts over 9 years by Wirral Council, once again fell in behind the council position, preferring to ignore the looming threat to her disabled constituents, and to protect her party-political friends instead.
Whereas in Wirral West, Margaret Greenwood MP has many constituents who will be adversely affected and has taken the issue up. Watch this (disabled parking) space.