Hackney-based social enterprise has so far recruited 20 ex-offenders to drive buses in London, working in partnership with specialist Blue Sky

 

HCT Group was so far recruited 20 ex-offenders

 

Ex-offenders have been successfully recruited as drivers for bus services in London as a result of an innovative trial by Hackney-based HCT Group.

“As a social enterprise, HCT Group is always seeking out innovative new ways to increase its social impact,” explained Dai Powell, HCT’s chief executive.

“By creating a pathway for ex-offenders … to build rewarding careers in the bus industry, we really can help people turn their lives around.”

Within 12 months of release, 60% of offenders will have re-offended. This has an estimated cost to the UK £13bn each year – not to mention the incalculable waste of human potential. Having a job is the single biggest factor in reducing re-offending, yet 75% of prisoners are released to unemployment.

HCT’s new ‘Drive On’ pilot project aims to create a path to sustainable employment for ex-offenders as drivers of Transport for London-contracted bus services. The project is a partnership between HCT and Blue Sky, part of The Forward Trust, a social enterprise.

Blue Sky recruits and selects the participants, ensuring that they are appropriate for the programme. The HCT Group Learning Centre, with its extensive experience of working with some of the hardest-to-reach learners in education, provides the theory and practical elements of bus driver training, leading to the participants gaining their full licence. After their training, participants then take part in the standard induction and review period of any other new driver recruit – albeit with ongoing management support and guidance from Blue Sky. At the end of their three-month review period, they are confirmed in post as London bus drivers.

An initial 10 ex-offenders were recruited last summer and they have recently been joined by 10 more. An additional 10 will be recruited in the spring. The initiative could then be extended across HCT’s operations, and the group will also consider whether to introduce a percentage target for the recruitment of ex-offenders.

The ones we’ve taken on have been absolute model employees. They want a second chance. They want to get their lives back in order. They want to be part of society… and all of us have a responsibility to enable that to happen

“The ones we’ve taken on have been absolute model employees,” Powell told Passenger Transport. “They want a second chance. They want to get their lives back in order. They want to be part of society… and all of us have a responsibility to enable that to happen.”

He says that the initiative could help HCT and other bus operators to avoid driver shortages. “There is an issue with recruitment,” he said. “We have Brexit round the corner where the issues with recruitment are not going to get any less. To have a cohort of drivers who really want to make the best of it because they’ve been given a chance to do it, what’s not to like?”

HCT believes that the specialist support offered by Blue Sky has been essential to the success of the project. After the third cohort joins, HCT will look at whether Blue Sky can work inside prisons to see if some of the theory and CPC training can be done before offenders have been released, to speed up the process.

“The two big things that stop people reoffending are work and accommodation. The more you can get those sorted quickly, the less chance of anyone reoffending,” Powell explained.

While HCT’s connection with Blue Sky came from its status as a social enterprise, Powell says there’s nothing to stop other bus companies from forging relationships with specialists. And he would be very happy if they did. “If you’ve got a good idea that helps society – share it,” he said.

Powell concluded: “What’s the churn rate across the industry? If 10% of that churn rate could employ ex-offenders then what a difference that would make to society.”

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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