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Volunteer group speaks on driver shortage ‘crisis’ as Suffolk MP Thérèse Coffey to bring debate to parliament





A volunteer group has spoken about a driver shortage ‘crisis’ as a Suffolk MP is set to bring licence reforms to parliament.

Debbie Blower, manager at Bungay Area Community Transport (BACT), a volunteer-led group providing transport to vulnerable elderly people, said refusal rates were higher than they should.

She added: “We’re here to help keep people more independent in their own homes as much as possible but with a shortage of volunteer drivers, we struggle to meet the demand that’s out there.

A volunteer group has spoken about a driver shortage ‘crisis’ as a Suffolk MP is set to bring licence reforms to parliament. Picture: iStock
A volunteer group has spoken about a driver shortage ‘crisis’ as a Suffolk MP is set to bring licence reforms to parliament. Picture: iStock

“It’s one of the worst crises we’ve ever had in terms of trying to get volunteers, we struggle to meet the demand that’s out there.”

This is due to the cost for drivers to legally operate larger vehicles, forcing the group, which stretches to Beccles and south Norfolk, to settle for smaller cars.

She added: “Although our passenger numbers are starting to build, our volunteer numbers have never gone up to pre-Covid levels.

The shortage of volunteers, who provide transport to elderly people, has made it difficult to meet the demand. Picture: iStock
The shortage of volunteers, who provide transport to elderly people, has made it difficult to meet the demand. Picture: iStock

“We’re a not-for-profit organisation, we cannot afford training costs and we end up letting people down.”

This comes as Suffolk Coastal MP, Thérèse Coffey, is set to bring a driving licence reform to Parliament on Wednesday.

Ms Coffey’s proposals, initially debated in late January, would see both C1 and D1 driving categories — referring to vehicles between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes, and those between nine and 16 seats respectively — automatically applied when someone passes a driving test.

She said these reforms would be key to the volunteering sector by encouraging more drivers to come forward without having to pay thousands of pounds in training.

This comes as Suffolk Coastal MP, Thérèse Coffey, is set to bring a driving licence reform to Parliament on Wednesday. Picture: submitted
This comes as Suffolk Coastal MP, Thérèse Coffey, is set to bring a driving licence reform to Parliament on Wednesday. Picture: submitted

Ms Coffey added: “Not having enough drivers is a real challenge. This is a way, potentially, to reduce cost for contribution to the community and a lower barrier for people volunteering.

“I think it would many more doors for people to volunteer if they want to, such transport for people of an older age or who have a disability — it’s about community engagement.”

As it stands, despite Brexit, the UK still follows EU rules, which warrant special training for these categories for anyone who has passed their test after 1997, costing drivers between £2,000 and £3,000. Anyone who passed their driving test before this date would have acquired so-called grandfather rights, allowing them to legally drive C1 and D1 vehicles.

The proposals seem to have public support, with a Government consultation ending in October 2022, indicating 64 per cent of people agreed with both categories being standardised into a driving test.

Ms Coffey said some restrictions could still be applied in the interest of road safety, such as a minimum age of 25 or a minimum licence holding length.

She continued: “I’ll be very disappointed frankly — it would show a lack of vision and lack of confidence if they keep with these European rules when they don’t need to.”