I proposed a motion as opposition Transport spokesman at yesterday’s full council meeting. It was very simple. It asked the Council to revisit their decision to provide little more than the bare statutory minimum for travel passes. This is because the current situation – so much less generous than the situation when the money was channelled through District councils – is causing genuine hardship to many people, who often have few if any alternatives,
i) recommending that those pass holders eligible due to age, shall be able to travel using their passes from 9 o’clock throughout the week,
ii) and removing all time limitations on buses for those pass holders eligible due to disability.
This was passed, hoorah! My speech (below) proposing the motion was supported by members of all the other parties, with very little demurring, (although Cllr Noble had considerable difficulty recognising his own Cabinet’s proposed figures on the subject),
An extraordinarily funny moment came when Cllr Newman, portfolio-holder for Children, Schools and Young People’s Services put forward the argument that poor college-going teenagers (here he instanced a young relative of his own) might have problems getting on a bus to college if OAPs crowded it at 9am. This was terrible, said Cllr Newman, considering how much the young person in question was having to pay to get to college by bus . And he seemed genuinely surprised by the response – loud cries of “You should bring back the Explore card!” which immediately came from the opposition benches.
Colleagues, since April, those people in Suffolk entitle to use concessionary travel passes by virtue of their age or disability have suffered a reduction in the terms and conditions of these passes. They can now no longer use them before 9.30 on weekdays.
This impacts on 140,000 people – just under 7,000 of whom require the pass on the grounds of disability.
Suffolk County Council are keen to say that they are actually providing enhancements to the basic statutory national minimum. That is, we provide the option of getting an ungenerous annual £50 in travel vouchers for those unable to use the bus, and allow cardholders to use a pre-9.30 bus if there IS only a single bus in the morning and it leaves pre-9.30. So much for the enhancements.
The County Council say that ‘to extend the scheme would involve extra costs and would have been at the expense of other council services’.
So what exactly are these costs?
The national minimum scheme is currently costing about £8 million for Suffolk.
The council tells us that the cost of including free travel between 9.00 and 9.30 would be an additional £180,000 a year.
They do not itemize the cost of providing 24/7 free travel for disabled people but we can easily extrapolate it from their figures. Do you know how much it will cost? An additional £23,000 a year. £23,000.
This is a tiny figure set against the harm that this cut has caused – the additional difficulty and expense of getting to work/school/training/social enterprise on time.
The additional difficulty to living a life that you and I take for granted.
We counld make a real difference for £23,000. Instead we are adding another hurdle for disabled people to overcome.
I must remind Cllr MacGregor that he, like I, answered live questions from disabled people at an ACE conference only last month and this change to their travel conditions was the subject generated the most concern. Can I repeat that the cost of solving it is £23,000 a year. Come on!
Let us turn now to the elderly people of this county. It is very easy, particularly if you have a car and your transport is paid for out of the public purse, to see no difficulty in this reduction of transport rights. It is, after all, the government’s statutory minimum. And what do old people do all day, anyway?
Well, let’s look around the room – what do you do? Plenty of people in this room are over 60. But you have active lives, you have things that you need to do, you are clearly continuing to contribute to society. You would be irritated to think you could be put into a special category of people who don’t need to be there on time, whose priorities can always wait for the rush hour to finish, who are just not quite as important as other people. After a lifetime of paying taxes and possibly fighting wars for us.
£180,000 is not a large sum of money to ensure the full participation in society and in daily life of our senior generation.
Which brings us to the lack of a full ‘Equality Impact Assessment’. Again. What is it with these EIAs and Suffolk County Council transport? Again, a pre-assessment judged that an EIA was “not necessary as long as specific measure were considered to meet the needs of people disadvantaged by remoteness or disability”. Well, Duh!
However even that is in debate. West Sussex council concluded, for example – with the same assessment – that implementing the statutory scheme may lead to “the council not fulfilling its duty under the Equality Act, 2010” and concluded that “to be genuinely useful, free travel would have to be all day for people with disabilities due to start-times offered by care-providers”. Were Sussex lawyers trained at different schools from Suffolk’s lawyers? Or is the council just a bit more caring and responsive in Sussex than we are?
Oh, and by the way West Sussex actually provide ‘companion passes’ too.
For this motion to be supported would cost the county council an annual £200,000, which is around 25p per year from every resident.
At a time of cuts I would hate to say “this is peanuts”. But it compares very favourably with the £750,000 we were happy to put into Suffolk Circle to support older people. With the £10 million which we are putting aside for rural broadband. And we mustn’t forget that so far this year SCC has managed to underspend on our budget by £3.5 million, by prioritising spending cuts over frontline services and social exclusion.
Our proposals will allow full, affordable participation in society to these two valuable groups of people: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home.
For all these reasons, I urge councillors to support this cheap and deeply effective motion.
Owing to demand from various organisations and advocacy groups we have set up a petition to urge the Cabinet to agree these recommendations . You can find the details and a downloadable paper form here