Community transport to stay in Suffolk despite government court battle

James Finch insists that community transport services like Go Start in Sudbury have a future despite

James Finch insists that community transport services like Go Start in Sudbury have a future despite the court ruling. Go Start founder John Phillips is pictured with its minibus. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Suffolk's community transport network – which links some of the most remote villages in the county with their nearest towns – will be retained despite a court ruling that is forcing major changes to the service.

The county's community transport is one the most extensive in Britain – 44 minibuses along with private cars were used to provide 150,000 journeys last year.

They carried people to the nearest town with a full bus or train service to ensure people were not isolated.

Many of the services are run on a voluntary basis – but a court case involving community transport services in Derbyshire is forcing counties to look again at how they operate.

At present drivers are regulated lightly – anyone with a normal car driving licence can drive a minibus and checks ensure drivers do not have driving convictions or other criminal records.

However the court ruling, brought by a commercial transport operator, meant that the Department for Transport has now issued new requirements for councils to introduce stronger certification for community transport and ensure drivers have had training before taking out passengers.

Cabinet member for transport James Finch said his department was still studying the full implications of the case – but he was determined to carry on with providing community transport. There was not threat to the service but it could be more expensive in future because of the increased cost of training.

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He said: 'I have spoken repeatedly about the value and importance this council places on connecting communities and the essential need of addressing the issues of rural isolation.

'We have successfully introduced an innovative community transport provision which this ruling could affect. At this stage the DfT has made the decision to change their interpretation of the law and are going to launch a public consultation on how to implement the transition.

'Suffolk's team is working hard to understand the implications and possible scenarios to consider how best to address these challenges. We are meeting with other affected local authorities to share knowledge and to take a leading approach on how we manage any changes.'