Hopes of a government support package for the coach industry have been rekindled, the Confederation of Transport (CPT) has revealed in a letter. CPT’s message outlines the next steps in its quest for backing – and the devastating impact on the sector that will result if it is not forthcoming.

President Steve Whiteway says that the government’s unwillingness to deliver support may have softened since Transport Minister Baroness Vere rejected earlier calls for sector-specific funding on 15 July.

Days after that bombshell and in a possible change of tack by the government, CPT was asked to present further figures to the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Treasury.

“This is an encouraging sign and reflects the Minister’s concern and understanding that unless government does something for the industry soon, it will not be here to satisfy the present home-to-school requirement, let alone any additional needs,” says Mr Whiteway.

CPT paper highlights dire need for coach industry support

Since the Honk for Hope gathering in London on 20 July, CPT has formulated a response to the government “to grab [its] attention in a different way, using our home-to-school ‘hook’,” Mr Whiteway continues.

That work has taken the form of a paper that illustrates the damage that will be done by a failure by the government to deliver support. It also offers a solution. Full details will be shared with CPT members after Baroness Vere and DfT have seen the document, but broadly CPT is seeking to:

  • Extend vehicle finance agreements and payment holidays “without significant extra cost” to the public purse, removing personal guarantees and possible house repossessions by restructuring debt
  • Obtain additional funding to make existing home-to-school services viable without infill work
  • Repeat the previous demand that the 85% of coach operators in the UK that have not been able to access a business rates grant scheme for the leisure sector can do so.

In return for those measures, CPT has pledged that the industry will preserve jobs.

Home-to-school is not the be-all and end-all, says CPT

Coach industry support
Paper prepared by CPT for Baroness Vere and DfT illustrates the impact on the coach industry that a lack of government support will deliver

While a focus on the impact on home-to-school transport of a sector collapse is prominent among what CPT is now doing, Mr Whiteway has reassured members that do not major on such work that they have not been forgotten.

Home-to-school transport is being used as a ‘hook’ by CPT to get DfT to understand the whole industry because it is currently a significant concern to government, he says.

Official estimates are that in England, an additional 5,000 vehicles will be required for dedicated home-to-school services from September because capacity will remain restricted on public bus routes.

The government is now “clearly worried” that the coach industry may not be able to contribute to meeting that need, adds Mr Whiteway.

Scale of the potential problem exposed by research

CPT’s work through a business confidence survey has painted a grim picture of the likely short- to medium-term consequences for the coach industry should no government support be received. They are:

  • By September, 10,000 directly employed staff will be made redundant. 300 coach operators, or 20% of the overall pool, will be in administration or voluntarily wound up. The overall coach fleet will have reduced by 3,600 vehicles
  • By November, 8,000 more directly employed staff will be made redundant. A further 350 coach operators will be in administration or wound up. 4,000 additional vehicles will be removed from the coach fleet
  • By January 2021, 5,000 further redundancies will be made. 400 more operators will enter administration or be wound up. The coach fleet will reduce by an additional 1,500 vehicles
  • By April 2021, the combined effects of the crisis would have seen a reduction of 23,000 jobs in the industry. 1,050 operators, or 41% of the total, would have been lost. Coach numbers would drop by 9,100 to 20,900. 4,000 further jobs would go among manufacturers and suppliers.

“It is becoming clearer by the day that thousands of jobs, many lifetimes’ work in building companies and even people’s houses are now on the line,” says Mr Whiteway.

‘Nonsense’ must be avoided if industry support is to be secured

Separately, Mr Whiteway has appealed to the industry not to act upon suggestions made in online forums that “a heavy handed and disruptive approach” is taken at future events that are held to bring the sector’s plight to the attention of the public and the mainstream media.

“That will only put back the cause of so many fellow operators who deserve a chance of getting support from government,” he says.

“CPT cannot be associated with that sort of nonsense. It is vital that we retain our seat at the table of government and our professional and respected relationship. This is an earned privilege and not a right. We must continue to work alongside this industry’s key decisionmakers.”