COMMUNITY transport services, including some which take disabled children to school, could be wiped out overnight following a row over licences being debated at the European Commission, according to a Wiltshire councillor

LINK and Community First provide volunteer driving services based in 22 towns and villages across the county, often in rural areas, to take older people to hospital appointments and disabled people out in the community.

Local councils are waiting to see if a ruling is made to reclassify all volunteer drivers on community transport schemes as commercial drivers. Volunteer drivers currently work under a permit scheme so they do not need to qualify as Public Service drivers.

Vital community services that help disabled children get to school and vulnerable people get to hospital appointments could disappear overnight if the groups are forced to make all volunteer drivers get a commercial licence, the council’s cabinet member for finance Philip Whitehead has warned.

In Wiltshire, 22 community transport services run on a grant basis in what has been described as a vibrant community transport sector.

Cllr Whitehead spoke during an Environment Select Committee meeting, when he said: “These rural services, village transport schemes providing transport several times a day every day, not one of those drivers will be PSD licensed and we will lose them overnight. This service has been running without an issue for 25 years.

“If this goes ahead we will lose all of the drivers overnight. They will be wiped out. That is why we and the Local Government Authority have been lobbying for several years. Community transport is doing the jobs that no one wants to do and are not financially viable. They are going after commercial companies exploiting this service.”

Nationally, a group of commercial bus and coach operators have raised the issue as a concern with the European Commission, citing unfair competition as the CT permit system means services can be run at a lower cost.

The decade-long row erupted after commercial bus companies complained to the European Commission that large voluntary community transport groups were stealing business and exploiting the benefits on offer in other parts of the country. Bus companies want to see large community groups held to the same licensing standards.