Today Suffolk County Council bite the bullet and announce that they’re planning a new discount travel card for young people in Suffolk “in a bid to remove transport barriers for young people across the county” as the Cabinet Member for Transport so disingenuously puts it.
Yes that’s right. Although the press release doesn’t mention it this is the very same Cabinet member who abolished the Explore young persons discount travel card in April 2011 halfway through the academic year. By doing this he knowingly placed huge – in some cases insurmountable – transport barriers between opportunities for employment and education and a whole cohort of Suffolk’s young people.
Once again we are back in TopsyTurveyland.
When the Explore card was cut in 2011 (as part of the New Strategic Direction ideology and supposedly on grounds of ‘cost), the Liberal Democrats warned that it was a terrible thing to do in a rural county at a time of economic instability and would cause significant damage to the educational, work and training prospects of the 55000 young people who used it. And it did.
And the Conservatives heard full details directly from Suffolk Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from thousands of the young people affected .We all told them that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job –with huge longterm implications for Suffolk’s budget. But the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport memorably replied, “you can’t spend a pound more than once.’
In that year SCC underspent by £13m of our pounds – enough to fund the Explore card many many times over .
As academic standards in Suffolk have slipped and more and more young people became NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) it seems that the point has finally got across. Thank goodness the Conservatives are now prepared to make a U-turn before they cause any further damage, even if they can’t bring themselves to admit that this is what they are doing.
Bringing back this card is obviously a successful outcome for the Suffolk Liberal Democrats ‘ work, and, more importantly, for all the young people and their families who have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn. Yet we are left looking at the damage caused in the last two years and wondering why it has it taken so long for the Conservatives to admit it. Why on earth didn’t they review the Explore card costs rather than cutting it completely- as they did – and leaving many young people struggling to get to college and employment?
Let’s be frank: young people’s travel is an issue that should have been extremely important throughout the years, and not just when the Conservatives are looking at the May elections! The cynical opportunism of the entire exercise is breathtaking!!