Ok, so guess what. The Explore card cut DID make an appearance at yesterday’s SCC scrutiny of NEET (young people Not In Education, Employment or Training ).
Not, you understand, that the Explore card was officially scheduled in, nor indeed was any witness called who was thought to know of , or wished to talk about, the Explore card. Although Explore card petitioners had asked for information about this scrutiny meeting and I had contacted the committee officer offering to provide evidence, we’d been greeted with silence.
Less than 24 hours before the meeting, petitioner Patrick Gillard finally heard back from Mark Bee:
The discussion between Cllr McGregor and myself with you, outside the Chambers included an explanation of the situation we are in and issues that had been experienced by students with the Post 16 discretionary scheme process for the half term only. As part of this discussion, it was agreed that the issue with the process would be looked into and that the other issues would be forwarded to the next Scrutiny meeting.
Suffolk County Council procedures in respect of petitions says that any petitions should be presented and formally received, there is no further detail given on what should happen however it is recognised that this is an area that needs further clarity and this will be reviewed for the future.
The Scrutiny meeting on Tuesday 14th June 2011 is a public meeting which you are welcome to attend, if you would like to opportunity to speak this will need to be approved by the Chairman…. There will be an opportunity for the Committee to consider scrutiny of the impact on young people of the removal of the Explore card as part of item 5 – Young People not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) (16-24yrs) in Suffolk.
Less than 24 hours notice – yet Mr Gillard, and the young members of Woodbridge’s Just 42 broke engagements, cancelled college and turned up. What commitment!
And just as well Patrick Gillard had managed to get last-minute permission to speak (and that I happened to be substituting on the Scrutiny committee) – because that meeting had somehow been arranged to talk about every aspect of young people’s deprivation EXCEPT TRANSPORT, though the witness from Suffolk Young Carers did dwell upon the effects of explore card cut. Otherwise, a group of (largely) town dwellers and car owners talked as if all the young Suffolk NEETs had no greater problems of transport than they did themselves!
Fortunately we managed to make the point sufficiently forcibly for the excellent new Committee Chairman (Colin Hart) to direct a Scrutiny Tast and Finish group to look at the problem and report back. This was helped by a surprisingly receptive response to the cuts from Guy McGregor.
This is wonderful! SCC made no equality impact assessment before embarking on this cut -which is the reason they appeared to have no idea of how badly it would affect young people. Neither did they engage in any form of consultation whatsoever – which is why they have been stating that there were no options between cutting and not cutting the card. This is far from the case. All it has ever needed as a bit less silo mentality from the departments and some divergent thinking.
Cllr McGregor has suggested one way forward (funding drawn from the EMA replacement subsidy). I feel there may well be several others – for example reducing the Explore card from an age 5-19 card to one for post-16 only, or suggesting an annual parental subscription.
One thing is certain – after this meeting I feel confident that, if SCC finally provides the will , they will be able to find a way.