Getting Better Together (GBT) is a community-based initiative that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the local community in North Lanarkshire. It’s based in Shotts and offers a range of services for people of all ages including community transport.
GBT’s Community Transport service was created in 2008 to fill gaps in public transport provision in the Shotts area. It particularly helps meet the needs of people who may have difficulty using public transport due to frailty or disability. The service is supported by two public bodies – Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and, to a lesser extent, North Lanarkshire Council. GBT are also currently piloting a service with NHS Lanarkshire.
North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) supports GBT through the environmental services department. Paul Bridges, from GBT Community Transport, describes their relationship with that department as excellent. It was developed over more than a decade of relationship-building, positive meetings and low stakes piloting of various schemes.
Officers in NLC’s environmental services team recognise the benefits that NLC and the community derive from working with GBT, and so support the organisation by providing and leasing vehicles and offering maintenance facilities; in return, GBT provide the council with training in passenger assistance for the vulnerable. This quid pro quo demonstrates the mature relationship between both organisations, seeking the best outcome for both partners and their service users.
GBT is also developing a new relationship with NLC’s education department, taking on ad hoc school work for the council. Paul says this suits GBT well, as to take on a large council contract would be considered a commercial undertaking not suitable for a community transport organisation. The ad hoc school transport provision that GBT provides brings benefit to the school children in terms of fully trained drivers – including in assisting those who are more vulnerable – and benefits to the council in terms of reduced costs.
This new school provision came about thanks to a session GBT and another local community transport provider, Glenboig Development Trust, organised with the council’s transport committee. In this session they were able to highlight the training, professionalism and community focus of their staff and organisations, which impressed NLC elected members and staff. GBT further demonstrated their commitment to the NLC by paying for extra PVG checks for all their drivers through the council’s own scheme, on top of the PVG checks GBT already had in place; this way, NLC had full confidence in GBT’s staff.
Thanks to GBT’s positive and professional approach, appropriate school work is now being passed on to GBT, and local school children are getting a better quality of service. Not only that, but other parts of the council are now also taking an interest in community transport.
It’s not just the council where GBT have been building relationships. GBT’s strongest and most valuable relationship is with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), the local transport authority. SPT have a clear understanding of what GBT do and how they can help plug some of the gaps in public transport provision in North Lanarkshire, particularly providing an appropriate service for people who have difficulty using mainstream services.
Again, this is based upon very good relationships with SPT staff, which Paul describe as supportive, helpful and open. The overall relationship is not based on a funder-supplicant dynamic, but rather each party recognises they need the other. They therefore work together to develop services – a real joint working relationship, with SPT passing jobs on to community transport whenever suitable, and offering GBT the opportunity to pilot some innovative services. SPT also provide funding (for example, they recently fully-funded a new seven-seater bus for GBT), and the returns which SPT expect from its funding of GBT are realistic.
Finally, GBT have slowly developed a relationship with NHS Lanarkshire. Since 2013, GBT has successfully undertaken several transport commissions with them, and in 2015/16 NHS Lanarkshire commissioned GBT to provide a free ‘Health Centre’ shuttle service in East Kilbride which carried over 11000 passengers. After the success of the East Kilbride project, NHS Lanarkshire launched a pilot scheme which includes GBT and Community Transport Glasgow to run a community transport service based at Monklands Hospital. Paul has high hopes that this will mark a turning point for GBT with the local NHS, leading to the kind of truly mature and strategic relationship that GBT have with SPT. Again, all of this work uses the extra skills GBT drivers have in working with those who struggle to use mainstream transport services, resulting in better outcomes for these customers.
In all cases highlighted above, Paul highlights that the strong personal relationships and trust between individuals in the various partner organisations is a crucial factor in the development of GBT’s services, and that, once that trust has been built, the benefits for the local community in the form of a better service, and for the partners in terms of affordability, are significant.