Category Archives: eXplore card

Will your pass be accepted on SCC’s New Community Transport?

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.

UPDATE: I am very happy and relieved to report Suffolk Coastal Community Transport -operated by  previous  operators CATS  and FACTS(ibn Felixstowe)-  will be operating the same services as before:  a mix of Demand Responsive Transport (on which bus passes will be accepted), and door-to-door and community car services on which passes won’t be accepted (exactly as before.) They are available for booking by anyone – old, young, disabled, ablebodied, carowner or  carless  to and from areas without a bus service or with very sparse services. They will operate Monday to Saturday 7-7, and can be block-booked  (better than before) up to two weeks in advance.
The phone number is 01728 635938
Please use it folks. Or lose it.

However in mid-Suffolk, the  franchisees BSEVC have already announced that they will be operating no Demand Responsive Transport in their Community Transport offer – eg   Bus Passes will NO LONGER  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%.

We wait for information

Babergh The Dining Room, Hadleigh Town Hall, Market Place, Hadleigh, IP7 5DN Friday 27th May Drop in

10.30 & 11.30

Forest Heath Forest Heath District Council, Council Chamber, College Heath Road, Milden hall, IP28 7EY Friday 3rd June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Ipswich Ipswich Town Hall (Change) Friday 10th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Mid Suffolk Mid Suffolk District Council, The Dove Room, 131 High Street, Needham Market, IP6 8DL Wednesday 8th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
St Edmunds bury St Edmunds bury District Council, West Suffolk House, Western Way, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3SP Wednesday 1st June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Suffolk Coastal Suffolk Coastal District Council, Council Chamber, Melton Hill, Melton, IP12 1AU Monday 6th June Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Waveney Waveney District Council, Riverside, 4 Canning Road, Lowestoft, NR33 OEG Wednesday 25th May Drop in between 14.00 & 15.00

We MUST have better bus transport – not worse

The rural population of Suffolk  is increasingly dividing into the haves and have-nots:  those WITH transport – and those without any.

With the imminent closure of Anglian Buses 164 and 165 services, and following the diminution of the 63 Framlingham service, I sent a litany of local travellers’ concerns to our MP Therese Coffey together with a letter asking  her to use her influence as our local MP to do four things:

  • to try and change some of the decisions to reduce bus services at a local level  – specifically by asking Go Ahead (new owners of Anglian Buses) if they could reconsider their decision to cut.
    I pointed out that as the 164 bus was an additional service that has only been around for 6 months, I feel it likely most of the travelling public might be satisfied with the restoration of the 165;
  • to use her voice to alter – at national level – the ridiculous ethos of so-called competition which has caused deregulated buses to provide such a terrible service in  the countryside.
    In the past County Councils ran bus services on the basis that popular routes could subsidise essential routes with smaller passenger numbers. I have sympathy with Councils that see no reason to subsidise only loss-making services. The loss of the 165 shows us on what a tightrope the services run. Yet rural services are not a frivolous luxury – they can make the difference between productive employment and training and expensive enforced idleness;
  • to press the government to address the situation of local transport in the forthcoming spending review holistically, by recognising the additional expense in social care and welfare payments that will occur if public transport is not  supported.
    I asked her to press  them to support it at all costs because public transport is an essential part of supporting the future welfare of the country – particularly in rural areas;
  • to press the government to look at the frankly unfair differentials in per capita spending on public transport across the country.
    Each Londoner gets about three times as much spent on them as each person in Suffolk despite the huge economies of scale London offers – and London buses aren’t deregulated. Why should the rural population be worth any less?

I wrote this letter because  I’ve been contacted by a so many people living along the path of the soon-to-be-cancelled Anglian bus routes 164 and 165 (164  Saxmundham -Wickham Market-Woodbridge – Ipswich ending at Railway Station. 165:Aldeburgh, Leiston, Rendlesham, Woodbridge, Ipswich ending at Railways station).  I am known to be particularly concerned about the public transport situation in Suffolk but I am assuming that Dr Coffey and various relevant council colleagues will have also been approached.

These two services are greatly loved and regularly used by many different local people (including myself). They are being cancelled because they are not profit-making. Indeed, how can they be  when First bus company has been scheduling similar but by no means identical 64/65 services to run in direct competition?  This has been a no-win situation as bus companies and travellers have all lost out.

At the same time the First 63 service from Ipswich to Framlingham has been cut back so as to provide a 3-4 bus service only  Monday to Friday (no holidays). For the rest of the time , Framlingham and its famous castle is  as cut off from Woodbridge and tourism as if it were in Ulan Bataar – a fantastical situation for ‘the greenest county’ to countenance.

Basically this means that the five major bus services that up till May 2013 ran through Woodbridge – the second largest town in Dr Coffey’s constituency – have been halved at a stroke.

The loss of these buses will have a dreadful impact on bus users all the way down Suffolk Coastal from Leiston to Woodbridge. Research from the Suffolk Foundation a year or two back has told us that 1 in 5 families in Suffolk don’t have a car.  The County council response to this over the years has been to replace scheduled services with so-called Demand Responsive Transport. This is a misnomer as it doesn’t respond in any sense to actual demand, or indeed need.

Most of my correspondents have been older people but this loss of more scheduled services will also have an impact on travel to education, employment and training – and thus upon NEETS. It will negate the Suffolk Conservative election pledge of a revived Youth Travel card. (What use is a youth travel card if there is no bus to travel on? ) Demand responsive transport is not set up to satisfy the regular, timely requirements of travel to education, employment and training as recent research has underlined http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/media/28-may-young-people-research

It will continue the negative effect on tourism caused by the current (in my opinion crackbrained) transport system which sees would-be visitors to Suffolk stymied by a double whammy of a rail company (Greater Anglia)  that only  performs engineering works at weekends and public holidays –  and a rural bus service that has stopped all services at these times. Again, Demand Responsive transport is of little help in this case because the tourist has to know about it in advance and know where they will be to pick it up, and understand the booking system. Never was there a service less fit for purpose!

We need our county council to do more to subsidise scheduled services – and i have copied this letter to the new Cabinet member for Transport, asking him to look at this. But we need more – we need all our elected representatives at all levels of government to join together  to improve the status of public transport in Suffolk  – indeed in all rural areas.

We fail to do so at our peril.

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.

Suffolk Tories: the Milquetoast Manifesto

Snapshot of Suffolk’s County Council  2009-13:

Threatened closure of 29 libraries.. the vanishing of the Road Crossing patrols..  loss of the rural evening and Sunday bus services.. closure of Youth Clubs.. divestment of Highway Services..  divestment of Country Parks..  vast sums spent on gagging clauses,  consultants and senior management salaries and perks.. abolition of the Explore youth travel card..  sale and potential closure of Care Homes..  the plummeting of Suffolk schools down the educational league tables to their current places as 148th out of 151 at Primary school level, 141 out of 151 at secondary level… (there’s plenty more, but that’s enough to be going on with)

It’s quite a spectacular grime sheet, isn’t it?

As the 2013 elections approach it may be worth  remembering that the Suffolk Conservatives made no mention of Suffolk’s  New Strategic Direction when they went to the polls in 2009. Yet it didn’t stop them doing their darnedest to implement it without any mandate once they had their majority. (And when they were stopped, many of the NSD proposals continued under a different guise..)

It might be well to ponder this before voting. The Suffolk County Conservatives’ 5-pledge election manifesto is as thin as a lo-calorie water biscuit – and about as nutritious. They promise to replace a youth travel card they cut two years back, the high-speed broadband they funded in this electoral cycle, plus an (unavoidable) expenditure on care , a Country-wide ‘No ColdCalling Zone’ (go figure) and that old Tory staple of no council-tax increase – which is always wheeled out as an alibi for their more spectacular episodes of financial mismanagement. And .. er.. that’s it.

So – as I say – milquetoast from start to finish.  

But who knows what may be on the secret agenda for the next four years?

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!