The government has performed a notable u-turn after finally deciding – after nearly three years of discussions and consultations – that it will not abolish the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) after all.
The coalition has been heavily lobbied since first announcing in October 2010 that DPTAC would be scrapped as part of its so-called “bonfire of the quangos”.
That decision drew criticism from peers such as Lord [Colin] Low, Sir Bert Massie, who was one of the original architects of DPTAC, and from current DPTAC members.
Sir Bert, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, said last year that it was possible to trace nearly every major improvement in accessible transport since the 1980s back to DPTAC.
The Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker had been determined to replace DPTAC, most of whose members are disabled people, even describing it as “a creature from a different era”.
But this week he told MPs that he had “decided not to proceed with abolition, but to retain DPTAC as the department’s expert advisory panel on accessibility issues relating to disabled people”.
He said he had concluded that replacing it would “not lead to any discernible improvement in economy and accountability”.
But he did warn that there was “scope for restructuring DPTAC to ensure it is a more efficient and effective body” and that he was “satisfied that the savings identified from such reforms would exceed earlier expectations”.
Alan Norton, a DPTAC member and chief executive of Assist UK, said he was “really pleased” with the decision, although it had been “a long hard fight” to persuade the Department for Transport not to abolish DPTAC.
He thanked Baker for his decision and his “approach to the consultation”, and added: “They couldn’t come up with any answers that really did what DPTAC was good at doing. I feel that we have really been listened to at last. I couldn’t honestly see how any other decision would have been rational.”
But he warned that DPTAC would need “ample resources and ample support from the department to make it work”, as there was currently only one civil servant supporting the committee.
He said there was now “an awful lot that needs doing. In some respects I think we have gone backwards slightly [since October 2010]because people lost faith in it. They weren’t taking it seriously.
“Now they will take it seriously again and hopefully we will have more people wanting to get involved with us and really get stuck in and address the problems that are out there. There is a lot of work still to be done.”
But he said he was concerned at the minister’s warning of further cost-cutting, particularly because of the possible impact on essential access arrangements for DPTAC members.
He added: “I can’t see them being able to run it any cheaper than it has been run. The government were and still are getting a really good service from disabled people at a really extremely low cost.”
Helen Dolphin, director of policy and campaigns for Disabled Motoring UK and another DPTAC member, said: “It was a surprise, but a good one. I think for the last couple of years we have had this hanging over us.
“It is good news for disabled people because there is now a direct line of communication between a body of disabled people who are completely independent and the government.
“My fear was that if it wasn’t DPTAC, how independent would it be? All of us are quite happy to speak our minds. We are very much individuals.”
13 June 2013