Hurrah – direct action and real democracy has finally paid off.
Yesterday – fifteen months after their short-sighted, mean-minded and pennypinching abolition of Suffolk’s Explore young person’s travelcard (halfway through the academic year, let me remind you!) – the Conservatives on Suffolk County Council have announced a U-turn. SCC will now be developing an Oyster-type card “to help provide reduced travel costs for education, training and work-related travel” for young people, because – as Leader Mark Bee acknowledged -travel is such a problem for young people in our rural county.
As my son would say, no shit, Sherlock!
What Cllr Bee says is perfectly true. But it is hardly news. It’s now exactly a year since the County Council received that 6,000 signature petition and the personal representations from a huge range of people (including some very vocal, determined – and polite – members of Woodbridge’s Just 42) telling them just this!
When the Conservatives originally argued the necessity of the Explore cut on the grounds of cost, they were too shortsighted to recognise the costly damage it would cause to the educational, work and training prospects of a whole cohort of young people. This harm was clear to anyone who looked at the facts rather than the ideology of the New Strategic Direction. Indeed, in the middle of last year the Conservatives heard this information directly from me and other Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from the young people affected.
We all told the Conservatives that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job. But -as the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport so memorably said -“you can’t spend a pound more than once.” In such circumstances, the wise idea is to choose carefully what you do spend your pounds on in the first place. This was the same Cabinet that agreed the expenditure of really quite a lot of pounds on Suffolk Circle.
Thursday’s announcement is welcome news – but sadly it is too late for some. And the current announcement – despite the fanfare – is currently limited to Ipswich.Yet Scrutiny established at the end of last year that the young people living in Ipswich remained best supported by bus services after the Explore cut. It was those in the rural parts of Suffolk – those with large distances to travel and no access to cars or petrol -who were most badly affected.
Now that this decision has been made, I urge the council to go beyond spin on this occasion and to roll out this new Oyster-type scheme as quickly as possible. We we need to reverse, wherever possible, the harm they have caused and are continuing to cause to the next generation of Suffolk!