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Derbyshire-based CT4TC is devising innovative services to keep its growing fleet busy with essential services.

The amalgam of Amber Valley Community Transport and Chesterfield & District Community Transport, CT4TC – or Community Transport for Town and Country – is a £1.5million turnover social enterprise with enormous reach in the Derbyshire area. It employs over 100 staff and runs 43 vehicles but despite its importance to the local community, is battling with cuts to its grant aid.

So Chief Executive Patrick Dawson and his team have devised ever more innovative ways to insulate the registered charity from the effects of public sector cutbacks, though not without putting up a fight by studiously analysing the true value of its services.

“For example, we get a chunk of funding from Derbyshire County Council, which we’ve been campaigning to keep.” said Patrick. “We put together a paper which examined the true value of our services which we emailed every councillor and our MP; in effect, it said that if you cut £1.2 million from the budget, it will cost social services £1.5 million to cover the essential services. Social value, we have explained, has a cash value.”

But CT4TC, based at Ripley, has long been building resilience to changes in public funding. It has held an Operator’s Licence since 2007, not just to ensure it can trade in a more commercial environment and support itself with income, but to provide a buffer against any future changes in Section 19 licensing.

“I have a feeling that S19 may disappear during a managed period,” said Patrick, the CPC holder. “I am told one CT was told two years by an MEP. We have our O Licence and separate our funding from that business. Importantly, we don’t set about undercutting local operators.

“I can see the Commercial operator’s point of view but it’s a two-way street; I’ve seen operators undercutting each other by effectively paying less than the minimum wage. The problem with this being acceptable for contracts is that the bill may come down but so will standards,” said Patrick.

In particular, Patrick is infuriated by the way in which subsidy is spent on low-volume bus routes: “In one case, an operator gets £45,000 a year for a timetabled bus service when, I believe, that money would be more efficiently spent on a demand-responsive bus service using small vehicles.”

Patrick also says there’s plenty of local competition in the S19 arena from private hire vehicles in the hands of taxi operators: “One has 12 minibuses. The quality of the buses tells the story.”

Of more pressing concern in some ways is the diminishing pool of drivers who have inherited D1 driver licensing. Most car drivers under 35 years old passed their test after the 1997 deadline and, as each year passes, the number who can drive minibuses is fewer: “It is a problem for us at the moment,” says Patrick.

A great deal of CT4TC’s work is with community social groups, and with home pick-ups for day centres and the like, particularly for the elderly and those with disabilities. As with so many CTs, the service goes way beyond mere transportation; for many people, CT4TC services are the only way they have to have a social life, and the drivers and carers are, by default, the watchdogs who often raise the alarm when there are problems: “They notice when someone’s not arrived for their pick-up. I have lost count of the number of times when our staff have realised something is wrong and called an ambulance.”

One of the most innovative services CT4TC provides is its lunch club – a lunch club with a big difference: “I noticed a decline in lunch clubs, which provide a vital social role for many people,” says Patrick. Many of them had been based at community centres but enthusiasm had leached away. CT4TC set about recreating them…. at pubs.

“The needs of people now are different from what they were 30 years ago when the original lunch clubs were popular. So we’ve spent 18 months setting up our own, and we now have 12 operating, with 800 people registered.” There’s a touch of genius in this; for many people, pubs have been an important social hub, and from the pub’s perspective, early lunchtime trade with simple menus is a real boon.

“They have a lot of social value. They start at 12 noon, and a side benefit of getting people out for lunch is that it cross-fertilises our day trips.”

CT4TC is proud of its fleet, comprised chiefly of accessible 16-seat vehicles, but including, of course, the coaches, one of which is an accessible 49-seater. The ‘fleet’ is broadened massively by running a volunteer car service, for which the drivers get 45p a mile to cover costs.

“The former Amber Valley fleet was 10 vehicles and 25 staff, which had risen to 20 vehicles by the time we merged. We shed a few vehicles when we lost some council contracts,” says Patrick.

The current premises are rented from a landlord who also happens to have a commercial vehicle service centre, and CT4TC has a close and fruitful business relationship with the landlord.

For now, the finances of CT4TC stack up. It has around £1.5 million income, roughly 25% of which is grant aid, and 30% from local authority contracts. The other 55% comes from its burgeoning community operations and fundraising.

“We don’t tend to get massive legacies,” says Patrick. “We have a duty to have economies. We have an £800,000 wage bill but, regrettably, some staff are on zero hours contracts.” With its policy of innovation, though, CT4TC has been set up to be nimble and make the most of its opportunities.

Maybe Patricks’ background in banking and finance has helped ensure it runs a tight ship, but that’s not the reason he’s there: “This is the most interesting job I’ve ever had,” he tells Which Minibus. And it’s plain that he keeps it interesting, not just for himself but for its staff and customers.

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