The Department for Transport (DfT) is to slash the membership of its advisory body on accessible transport by nearly half as a result of the coalition government’s freeze on civil service recruitment.
The DfT admitted this week that membership of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) – most of whom are disabled people – would be cut from 19 to just 10 people at the end of this year.
The three-year terms of nine members are due to end on 31 December, and none of them will now be replaced or have their membership renewed.
Those being forced to leave include many of DPTAC’s most experienced members.
The DfT also admitted that the cuts could mean the government breaches its legal duty to ensure that DPTAC – which provides a pan-disability view on the impact of transport laws, regulations, guidance and policy to government and the transport industry – has a chair and at least 10 other members.
A DfT spokeswoman said: “It hasn’t happened yet. We need to take stock and see what we can do about it.”
Helen Smith, director of policy and campaigns for Mobilise and one of the DPTAC members who will be forced to leave, described the situation as “pretty dire”.
She said the cuts would mean DPTAC would have to scrap its structure of four working groups, each specializing in different areas of transport, while many of the 10 remaining members were much less experienced than those who were leaving.
She said: “I think there is a great deal of disappointment. We feel that the work of DPTAC is not being particularly taken seriously.”
She fears the government might be considering scrapping DPTAC altogether in a bid to cut spending even further.
Alan Norton, chief executive of Assist UK and another member due to leave in December, said DPTAC’s work had led to a “massive improvement in services for disabled people, without wasting money”.
He said: “It is one of the areas where disabled people have really made a difference in advising ministers on policy. Recommendations that we have put forward have been implemented.”
He added: “DPTAC’s remit is very wide. It covers all forms of transport. Obviously if it has reduced numbers its scope would have to be reduced and its priorities would have to change.”
A DfT spokeswoman confirmed that the number of members would be cut from 19 to 10 at the end of 2010. She said there were no further cuts planned to DPTAC’s budget.
She said the DfT could not say whether DPTAC would still be equipped to perform its advisory duties “until we have looked at the implications of the recruitment freeze”.
In a statement, Dai Powell, chair of DPTAC, said it was “vital” that it continued its work so “the dedication, expertise and commitment” of its members could keep the “needs of the disabled traveller” at the “forefront of government transport policy development”.