Community Transport Drivers found not holding licences on school transport told to stop after DVSA check
Staffordshire County Council is seeking urgent clarification from the DVSA – which in turn has referred the issue to the Department for Transport (DfT) – about the use of drivers who do not hold a Category D licence or Driver CPC Qualification card.
It comes after a routine multi-agency school transport check on 15 March at the Two Rivers School, Tamworth.
The DVSA found that drivers and vehicles, running under Section 19 permits, were being paid for their hours. The commercial contracts are held by Swandlincote Community Transport.
It is unclear what action DVSA took on site, but the result was that the council immediately suspended all nine of Swadlincote’s contracts, and put them out to emergency tender the same day, until Easter.
Eight contracts were covered by a number of O-Licenced coach operators. A ninth is being covered by a non-O-Licenced commercial ambulance service, which includes patient transport. The firm, Hednesford-based Cartello Ambulance, is exempt from O-Licencing, claims the council.
The council says that it is currently “seeking clarity from the DVSA and DfT” and hopes to resolve the situation this week.
It says it took action to suspend the contracts as it was initially unclear if there had been a change to guidance that it was unaware of, and that it did not want to put individuals or operators at risk if the rules had changed.
It highlights the long-running debate – currently the subject of an official complaint to the EU – about the correct interpretation of the requirements for drivers.
While legislation is clear that when work is being carried out for ‘hire or reward’, and certain classes of vehicles are being used, then the work must be carried out by an O-Licenced operator with fully-qualified drivers, community transport groups argue against this. Their counter argument is that because the organisations are not set up to make a profit, and contract income goes to defray expenses, they are exempt.
Swandlincote CT refused to speak to routeONE.
The Community Transport Association (CTA) issued a statement on its behalf saying: “The CTA is aware that DVSA officials have questioned the credentials of some drivers of community transport vehicles fulfilling school contracts in the last few days.
“We have long-standing working relationships with the DVSA and DfT to try to understand the exact nature of this action and the implications for future practice.
“It is important to understand that these operators won these contracts in good faith working to rules that applied at that time and there has been no public statement from DVSA that their own practices have changed.
“We would therefore urge everyone, especially local authority commissioners, to not jump to conclusions about the validity of contracts currently held with community transport operators until the DVSA can clarify the position publicly.
“The story which should be highlighted and discussed here is the service users who have had the specialist support provided by their dedicated community transport drivers taken away from them.
“We continue to keep open lines of communication with our members and hope to have this matter resolved shortly.”
As routeONE closed for press, a promised statement from the DVSA had yet to arrive.