Who is the competition?

The recent announcement by the European Commission on State Aid to Community Transport (CT) operators is obviously very good news.   Some of the arguments made against CT were quite frankly absurd, not well thought out and so wide of the mark as to almost be laughable, had it not been so serious.

Local Authorities can support CT and commission services from CT at the same time, this is not an issue.  And the argument about CT being unsafe is just daft.  There are some rogue CTs, just as there are some rogue private companies. You only have to read the trade press (Coach and Bus Week, RouteOne) to see that this is true - and these rogue operators, of either type, need to be condemned.

But the issue of competition is serious and real, although approached from the completely wrong angle.  The competition is not between private companies and CT Operators - the competition is isolation and loneliness for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

We have a moral duty to try and address this and Local Authorities in general are trying very hard to address this with limited, and shrinking, resources.

The real good news is that the announcement from the EU does start to address this issue.  The new procurement legislation from the EU, and the UK version, make it much clearer that an authority can partner with a social sector organisation to deliver social value.  Social sector organisations can be given (yes given, not tendered), services to innovate with and design for three years before they go out to tender.

It is also possible to enter into a formal partnership with social sector organisations to deliver services that have previously been tendered out.  And further, the new rules emphasise that The Most Economically Advantageous Tender does not necessary mean the cheapest, and often will not be the cheapest.

All this is designed to allow local authorities to innovate, to get the greatest social value for every pound of public money and to try and reduce isolation and loneliness.

These changes have come in for all services, not just transport, but there will be big changes by some authorities in the way transport is delivered as a service to the public, and if this does truly increase the social value generated, then the new changes can only be welcomed.

The official EU decision can be found here

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