Category Archives: Concessionary passes

What price SCC’s new Community Bus service? A lot it seems!

So, people of Suffolk,will you be able to afford your new Community transport as re-engineered by your caring sharing Suffolk County Council? Will it accept your bus pass even?

I really wouldn’t count on it.

In Suffolk Coastal we haven’t yet been told the situation, but elsewhere in the county people already have had very bad news. Predictably, LibDem anxieties about the format of Suffolk’s new Community Transport franchises are already showing themselves to be justified.

Around Bury St Edmunds , the BSEVC have already announced that NO Bus Passes will be accepted, all fares will rise, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory. And, surprise, surprise, there seems to be no provision for young people to use SCC’s much vaunted youth card the Endeavour (that pallid simulacrum of the much more successful Explore  card  the young people of Woodbridge fought so hard with me to keep)

What price Suffolk's new Community Transport Franchise deal? A lot in BSE- with the new company accepting NO BUs Passes, nor fares for under 16s unless accompanied by an adult (!) plus an overall increase in adult fares. And will the SCC Endeavour card be honoured? Er.. no
(click to enlarge) What price Suffolk’s new Community Transport Franchise deal? A lot in BSE- with BSEVC accepting NO Bus Passes, nor fares for under 16s unless accompanied by an adult (!), scraping discounted returns  plus offering an overall increase in adult fares.  Nice.   And will the SCC’s Endeavour card – that supposed banner of support for the  travel-poor young people of Suffolk-  be honoured? Er.. no

As Creeting resident Mark Valladares said bitterly on Twitter,

“My Conservative County Councillor claimed we would have a “better service at lower cost”. Now we know what he meant”

Mr Valladares also pointed out that  BSEVC has scrapped the discounted return fare – his return fare is now up by 54%.

What will happen for us in Woodbridge needing to travel to the busless wastelands of  east of the Deben and beyond? We have yet to be told. But the experience of our fellows in rural west Suffolk is not encouraging.

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⇒T here will be a VERY BRIEF (1 hour) drop-in session to ‘inform’ us  at:

⇒Suffolk Coastal Suffolk Coastal District Council, Council Chamber, Melton Hill, Melton, IP12 1AU Monday 6th June
10.30 & 11.30

⇒If you – or your friends or family – have an interest, I would strongly advise you to attend.

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Better Bus Passes WERE affordable all the time!

Emprotesting2 (2)
Bus passes are hugely important for both disabled and elderly bus users

Since Suffolk County Council took over administering the Concessionary Bus pass scheme from the district councils, they have managed a significant underspend every year  which they use to fund other things – not necessarily connected with public transport. This is cynical and inappropriate –and is defended by the council with the limp rationale that this money is ‘not ringfenced.’

Can I remind you of the importance of bus transport for the elderly and disabled in a large rural county like ours – and the impact on services which this cheeseparing decision has had, through the law of unintended consequences?

BUT , last week Suffolk County Council’s 2014-15 budget outturn (revealed at last week’s Cabinet) showed definitively a Passenger Transport  underspend of £400,000 due mainly to half a million pounds of savings in spend on Concessionary Travel. On being questioned, the  Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport has confirmed that  similar savings have been made every year since the County Council  took over the administration of the Concessionary Travel scheme from the district councils.

The dreadful thing about this underspend is that SCC do not allow the elderly or  disabled people to use their bus passes before 9.30 in the morning, because they say it is ‘unaffordable,’ AND in July 2011 Council voted to support a motion put forward by myself -as Shadow Spokesperson for Transport –  to change this! They voted  that concessionary bus pass holders eligible due to age should be able to travel using their passes from 9am during the week, in addition to removing all time limitations for disabled pass holders. (Full details here)

This decision was undemocratically quashed by Cabinet on the grounds of cost (estimated at that time to be around £200,000).

In other words, four years ago  the entire membership of Suffolk County Council voted for an action that would help the most vulnerable members of our county, the Cabinet undemocratically overruled the council’s decision on the grounds of cost, and now it seems as if the over-ruling was made on a spurious and mistaken basis – to put it mildly!

In full council last week I reminded the current Cabinet Member for Transport of the decision to overrule Councils vote and I asked: “As arguments of cost are groundless from the evidence of these outturn figures,   will the Cabinet member now engage to  revisit and reinstate that decision, so that the concessionary pass holders of Suffolk can once again enjoy the same benefits they had before the County Council took over administration of the scheme – and which, in some cases (the blind, for example) they had enjoyed since the Second World War!”

What’s Been Happening: June – July 2015

Hot topics this month  are:  post-16 transport, a subscription scheme to replace free garden waste disposal, further cuts to the Fire service budget,  the new SCC Leader’s ‘Listening Days’  – and the fact that we underspend on our concessionary fares budget and have done so year after year , indeed apparently ever since we took over administration of the scheme from the district councils – despite the fact that successive SCC Cabinet members have told us that disabled people can’t possibly take the bus earlier ‘because it’s too expensive.’

Seems to me that that ‘too expensive’  is the kneejerk mantra of our administration –  without any investigation of whether this is the case or not (except when it comes to  certain things like Suffolk Circle..) What’s that quote about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing? This lot don’t even know the price!

Post-16 Education transport  Farlingaye High School has contacted me with concerns raised by individual parents concerning SCC’s new post-16 transport policy. Although the statutory school leaving age is 16, Raising the Participation age (RPA) has created a de facto statutory school leaving age of 18.This sits uneasily with SCC’s new post-16 transport policy, which, far from taking this into account offers less provision for post-16s than previously.

The county council has received no additional funding to support RPA. However, RPA is causing real issues for some families, particularly those on low income in rural communities and where there are no public services available that are timed to work with the school day.

I have asked SCC :Whether any scheduled public services that have been cut are being reinstated? Has SCC lobbied central government about the disparity of transport funding between  for example, London (whose Oyster card provides free travel for all young people funded from a disparate governmental grant allocation that provides much more per capita for Londoners) and rural counties, and what was the outcome? Has representation been made by SCC  to seek additional funding to support Raising the Participation Age?  The EADT published my letter on this issue last Friday.

More cuts to Suffolk Fire Service?  SCC are starting a public pre-consultation for changes to Suffolk Fire http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/consultations-petitions-and-elections/consultations/fire-service-redesign/  The ultimate intention is to cut another £1m of the already slimmed-down service.

Already Felixstowe Fire Station has ceased to have whole time Firefighters, and there has been a cut in the number of wholetime Firefighters across the county. As an example, on June 24th at 11:30 there were 10 Fire Stations off the run, including such stations as Hadleigh, Debenham, Framlingham and Aldeburgh. A further station was short-crewed meaning it could not attend property fires and a further 2 had appliances off the run.

I contacted CFO Hardingham to assess our local situation: as of the beginning of the month, there were13 firefighters at Woodbridge Fire Station, but they are in the process of interviewing for one more . The full complement is 14.

Proposals to end free garden waste collections in Suffolk Coastal (and other districts) Acting on advice from the Suffolk Waste Partnership, SCC is proposing to cut costs by moving the rest of the county to the Babergh/MidSuffolk system for collecting and treating organic (eg garden and some food ) waste. This would mean that the council reduces its subsidy to the minimum  for ‘free’ collections in other districts (such as Suffolk Coastal)  and supports a move to a subscription service – sharing the savings 50/50 with the relevant district councils. This would rely on an increase in individuals home composting.

This will depend on decisions of individual councils, but I gather that the subsidy will be reduced to statutory minimum whatever the outcome.

SCC underspent last financial year The financial outturn of SCC 2014-15  revealed that the revenue budget was underspent by £2.3 million (0.4% of the net budget)  and at the year end, £107.1m had been spent against the capital programme of £171.4m. This leaves reserves of £202.9 m.

Worrying  areas of underspend included  Early Years, Passenger Transport and Highways. Passenger Transport has underspent by half a million  – due to savings in the cost of concessionary travel. The Chief Accountant confirmed to me on 13th July that here has been a similar underspend in the cost of concessionary travel  every year since SCC has taken it over from the district council. Yet SCC has consistently refused to provide an earlier  start-time for travel for  Suffolk’s 7,000 disabled bus-pass holders on the  grounds of ‘cost’.

Health Scrutiny –mental health services  At the beginning of July, SCC health scrutiny looked at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s Service Strategy 2012-16  for mental health and what had been done to address the CQC’s findings of February 2015, when the Trust was rated as “Inadequate. The Committee was particularly concerned about the 24 hour CAMHS crisis care service, which was high priority and rated red, and asked for a progress report on this issue.

Leader’s Listening Days  Between now and October, SCC’s new leader Colin Noble is scheduling ‘We are Listening’ events in  Lowestoft, Haverhill, Felixstowe, Stowmarket, Ipswich, Sudbury, Beccles, and Newmarket. During these visits, he “wants to hear first-hand the issues and topics of interest for local council tax payers”

Although I have been unofficially told that he plans to be in Woodbridge on 19 September, (the date of my September surgery), I have not had this confirmed.  See more at http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/wearelistening

County Councillor’s Surgery Increasingly my surgery is bringing in constituents from outside my division, who want to speak to a County Councillor face-to-face. Two people  in two months have come from other parts of the country and have been incandescent about the lack of useful Tourist Information that is provided inside the Library on a Saturday despite the enormous SCDC notice outside, stating otherwise!

Surgery dates for the next few months are:  Saturday 20 June, and Saturday 18 July. I will take my customary  August break, before starting again on 19th September. Surgeries continue at Woodbridge Library 10-12 as ever.

What happened in Suffolk 2012-13

Another year has passed, and yet many local government themes remain the same.  Local Government funding is decreasing; Councils have to choose what their priorities are, and find innovative ways of continuing to provide frontline services if they are not to abandon them altogether. However there is always a question of priorities, and I would strongly disagree with many of the priorities of the last Conservative administration.

This report mentions the year’s plummet of Suffolk Schools down the national league table, the loss of bus services, the Conservatives’ covert concession that they had messed up big time in abolishing Suffolk’s Youth Travel card – though they were never big enough to apologise to the young people – the creation of the Libraries IPS and various other things before it finished with the grand finale of the loss of much of Conservative dominance due in part to unexpected UKIP gains in the recent election. This is where I am going to start

County Council Election 2013    On May 2nd Suffolk went to the polls, changing the political profile of Suffolk considerably.  I retained my seat with  an increased share of the vote.  Thank you very much! Across the county  the major changes were as follows: the Conservatives lost 16 seats – including that of one Cabinet member – reducing their majority from a complacency-inducing 35 to a very much more nervous  and hopefully less arrogant 3.  Labour picked up 11 seats (admittedly from the rock-bottom level of 4 they were reduced to after the 2009 election), and the LibDems lost 4 seats – although not a single sitting candidate! The gainers were the UKIP – eight extra seats all gained from the Conservatives.

Our Woodbridge UKIP candidate seemed wholly invisible, and the only UKIP leaflets I saw were generic,  published in Newton Abbott, and scattered on the path outside the Kyson polling station on the day of the election. These said (I quote verbatim ) “Next year the EU will allow 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come to the UK”  (this figure being more than the total population of Romania and Bulgaria and the issue being wholly outside the remit of the County Council).   

327 Woodbridge residents were bird-witted enough to vote for this compelling local agenda. Presumably they have no views whatsoever  on things the county council actually does need todeal with, such as improving the dire  Suffolk Schools results, fixing the roads, caring for the elderly,  and trying to prevent the last rural buses from disappearing.

If only I could be certain that these very same voters didn’t come running to me to complain about  roads, schools, care and public transport. That would seem very much like having your cake and eating it!

SCC Budget 2013-4  There was a further reduction in Government grants to the County Council this year.  In total, the Council had to save £24.9m, as part of a two year programme to reduce the budget by just over £50m.   As was the case in 2012, the budget focused on making efficiencies rather than specific service cuts.  This is concerning as there is no way to measure how much these reductions affect the frontline services.

The vast majority of the savings came from two directorates.  The first,  Adult and Community Services will save £7m as part of an in-depth review, and the second being Children and Young People’s Services who must save £2.5 million. An excellent choice when there are so many concerns about elderly care and poorly attaining schools!.  In addition to these listed savings, there are further efficiencies taken from across the County Council which total £9.7m (including further money from ACS and CYP).

At the Full Council meeting where the budget is discussed, an amendment was submitted by the Liberal Democrat Group suggesting:

  • Increasing the funding for school improvement services by employing more advisers, and increasing the support to schools.
  • Attracting more foster carers to a pioneering scheme for the most vulnerable children in Suffolk.
  • Reinstating the Speed limits team at Suffolk County Council to allow communities to apply for 20 mph schemes once again.

This amendment, which would have been fully funded by the contingency reserve, and would have helped increase attainment and look after the most vulnerable in Suffolk, was defeated by the Conservative majority.

Education in Suffolk plummets  This past year has been quite a shocking one for education in Suffolk. Although our excellent Woodbridge schools have mercifully bucked the trend, Suffolk schools have slipped inexorably down the attainment rankings – having ranked  30th out of of 151 in in 2001-4, they have fallen the current position of 148th of 151 at primary level and  141/151 at secondary level. SCC has announced a Raising the Bar initiative in order to reverse this dreadful state of affairs.

Previously this year Matthew Taylor the CEO of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (RSA) and former prime ministerial advisor, has been tasked with improving educational attainment in Suffolk.  The work will and has involved spending time working with employers in Suffolk and head teachers.  It is expected that the commission will report back in May 2013. This was was as a result of Suffolk GCSE results lagging four percentage points below the national average.

After all our lobbying, the return of a Suffolk Youth travel card   At the beginning of 2013, Suffolk County Council Cabinet announced that it was going to start to look into re-introducing a youth travel card –  having cut the Explore card in the 2011budget, as part of the Conservatives’ New Strategic Direction.  We predicted that the decision to remove it would cause significant hardship for many aged between 16-19, and it did: increasing the costs of not only travelling to college, but also work and social activities.  Petitions and campaigns were launched for its return, with myself as Lib Dem spokesman for Transport and the Lib Dem Group being at the forefront of this – along withg the young people of Suffolk (and especially Woodbridge).

It gives me no satisfaction whatsoever to have once again played Cassandra to the Conservatives’  frivolous gaming with the futures of our young people.

This proposed new card will go some way to reduce this impact, with discussions still on-going with bus companies to provide a universal discount of approximately 20-25%.  There are concerns that this card won’t be available on all buses in Suffolk, which could hugely disadvantage students in rural parts of the County.

Better Broadband for Suffolk In 2012 Suffolk County Council together with other public sector organisations from the County submitted a bid to the Government to seek matched funding to help improve broadband in the County.

At first, the County submitted a bid which was rejected due to underestimating the amount of public funds required.  Subsequently, the County Council contribution was increased and accepted and so discussions with private companies to do the work began. Faster Broadband for Suffolk is  therefore an issue  that has been agreed already,  with the contracts  being signed just prior to Christmas.  BT Openreach are now surveying the locations around the County for implementing the agreed faster broadband speeds, with some properties possibly receiving this in the autumn.  So pleased were the Conservatives with this that they actually made it a pledge in their election manifesto although Faster Broadband has been arranged  already.  This is the easy way to ensure you meet your pledges.

 Suffolk County Care Homes to be divested   In October the administration, at Cabinet, voted to divest the Council of its care homes.  This means that the County Council has passed over its 16 care homes and 8 wellbeing centres to Care UK or its funding partner as part of a 25 year contract to provide care.

The decision also includes an estate development plan, which commits Care UK to provide 10 new purpose built care homes and 10 community wellbeing centres, many of which will be in different locations to the current homes, with the old sites being handed back to the County.
This is a great concern for care homes like  Lehman House which are well-situated in the centre of a community within easy reach of transport and shops. The proposed replacements are not situated so conveniently.

Police and Crime Commissioner  This last year was the year the  Suffolk Police Authority was abolished.   On the 15th of November Suffolk elected Conservative candidate Tim Passmore as their PCC.  The Liberal Democrats refused to field a local candidate on the grounds that policing should not be a  party-political issue.  Woodbridge had, I believe, a high rate of spoiled papers.

For  more information on the Panel, including membership, meeting dates across the year:- http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/your-council/decision-making/committees/police-and-crime-panel-joint-committee/

Libraries – Industrial and Provident Society On the 1st of August Suffolk’s  new Library service was launched with the Industrial and Provident Society taking over responsibility from the County Council.  The IPS now runs all of the 44 Libraries in Suffolk, as well as the mobile library, school, and prison services.

According to the SCC administration, this move is a way to ensure all libraries continue remain open with paid staff. It is better than the previous situation when 28 libraries were under threat of closure. However there have been a number of claims about the level of savings that are required across the Library service, most recently there were claims that £100,000 had to be saved from as yet unspecified areas.   Originally the County Council claimed that in setting up an IPS there could be an 80% saving on business rates, and then made a request of a 5% saving per Library.

It is concerning that the funding for the Library service will only be protected for a total of two years.

No Fairer Bus Fares for the Disabled and Elderly Over the past year the Lib Dem Group fought long and hard to get the Concessionary Bus pass system in Suffolk much fairer.  Back in 2011, the Lib Dems submitted a successful motion to Full Council to get the Concessionary fares scheme looked at once again, which finally occurred in July 2012.  Whilst this initial attempt was unsuccessful, the group requested that this issue be looked at again by the Scrutiny Committee.  This resulted in Cabinet finally looking at the issue in December 2012.

Our campaign aimed to reverse the decision that the county only provided the statutory minimum free travel with a bus pass.  This meant that on weekdays pass holders were limited to travel between 0930 and 2300, the Lib Dems wanted to extend this to 24 hour free travel for disabled users and from 9am for elderly users.

In the case of the December Cabinet meeting, the portfolio holders refused to change the Counties policy, and wouldn’t even let opposition councillors ask questions.  (Usually opposition Councillors have an opportunity to question Cabinet’s potential decision, and raise important points. On this one occasion this was refused, even though the report contained new information.   The new information included results from the small scale survey the Council carried out, and a letter from the Equality Human Rights Commission which stated that the processes undertaken by Cabinet in the original decision needed ‘considerable improvements’.)

Unfortunately, there are currently no further methods to change this decision through the Council’s constitution,  only through a different composition of the County Council decision makers! However, the Conservative majority now hangs on a knife edge. I predict a much more regular attendance and less snoozing in the Tory back benches!

Woodbridge County Councillor Locality budget 2012-13  This funded the following:

  • Woodbridge Cycling Festival: *Materials, first aid cover etc
  • St Mary’s Woodbridge: Repairs  to *Tower and to *South side of the church wall
  • Deben Swimming Club: *Poolside kit for competitions
  • Woodbridge RUFC: *Indoor activity area improvements
  • Woodbridge Town FC Under 8 Team: *Waterproof jackets
  • Deben Players: *Costume store
  • Woodbridge Youth Centre: *Generator
  • Wickham Market & District Family Carers Support Group: *Training for respite care volunteers
  • Just 42: *Hardstanding for Peterhouse  Green
  • The Princes Trust: *Flowers/ pots for exterior of Woodbridge Youth Club
  • YP@ Woodbridge: *Cooking equipment, TV/DVD & Disco/Karaoke unit
  • Woodbridge Library: *Blackout Blinds; *Reading challenge – balloon modeller, & prizes
  • WoodbridgeTown: *Grit bins; *Thoroughfare Bike racks ; *repairs to ElmhurstPark wall/shed; *Funding for Jubilee Pavilion; *Bench at Hasketon/Grundisburgh road junction

Woodbridge County Councillor Quality of Life budget 2012-13  The County Councillor’s Quality of Life Budget has funded:

  • new signs to prevent HGVs trying to get to the town centre via Angel Lane.
  • signage slowing traffic on Cemetery Lane
  • calming scheme in Sandy Lane.
  • New cycle racks in ther Thoroughfare; the old (expensive to be matched) ones moved to Market Square.

Because of  electoral purdah however, some of these schemes had been abandoned mid-stream to be restarted after the election.

Young Persons Travel Card: Suffolk Tories’ Amnesia?

I just cannot get over the Suffolk Conservative election pledge  “A new travel card for young people

Are they amnesiac? have they an overdeveloped sense of irony?

The Suffolk Explore card, cut by the Conservatives  in haste, and apparently now repented at leisure
The Suffolk Explore card, cut by the Conservatives in haste, and apparently now repented at leisure

Suffolk Conservatives wouldn’t need to pledge a new travel card for young people if the very same lot hadn’t cut  the Explore card two years ago – halfway through the academic year 2010-11 – causing a huge amount of problems to all those young people who were not lucky enough to have other means of transport.  The Suffolk Conservative Councillors  who are now making this pledge voted like sheep to approve that cut (see link)  despite the harm it caused to education, employment and training.

So what’s changed?

Is it the imminence of the May 2 elections? Is it maybe that those very same young people are now old enough to vote? The cynicism is breathtaking.

Suffolk Conservatives – don’t you realise you are dealing with real lives, real futures, real people?

Youth travel is an issue for every day – not to be cut and restored for electoral advantage!

 Addendum: LibDem candidate Emma Greenhouse was personally affected by Suffolk’s Explore card cut.  She is now campaigning for better public transport for everyone in Wilford!