COMMUNITY transport services that take disabled children to school could be wiped out overnight following a row over licences being debated at the European Commission.

Local councils are waiting to see if a ruling is made to force all community transport schemes, that currently benefit from a special permit, to reclassify volunteer drivers as commercial drivers.

The decade long row erupted after commercial bus companies complained to the commission that large voluntary community transport groups were stealing business and exploiting the benefits on offer around the country.

Bus companies in these areas want to see large community groups held to the same licensing standards as them.

Vital services that got disabled children to school and vulnerable people to hospital appointments could go if the groups had to make all volunteer drivers get a commercial licence, Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for finance Philip Whitehead warned.

In Wiltshire, 22 community transport services run on a grant basis in what has been described as a vibrant community transport sector.

He said: “These rural services, village transport schemes providing transport several times a day every day, not one of those drivers will be PSD licenced and we will lose them overnight. This service has been running without an issue for 25 years. If this goes ahead we will lose all of the drivers overnight. They will be wiped out. That is why we and the Local Government Authority have been lobbying for several years.

“Community Transport is doing the jobs that no one wants to do and are not financially viable. They are going after commercial companies exploiting this service.”

Nationally, a group of commercial bus and coach operators have raised this as a concern with the European Commission, citing unfair competition as the community transport permit system offers a lower cost regulatory system when compared to the community transport regime.