Category Archives: Suffolk County Council

Bus passes: why are we waiting?

I  – and my  colleagues – are  increasingly concerned about SCC’s failure to keep to their promise to the elderly and disabled of Suffolk and revisit their decision about time restrictions on concessionary bus passes.

It’s eight full months (July 2011) since Suffolk county councillors unanimously passed the motion proposed by me, as Lib Dem Transport spokesman,  and pledged to look again at concessionary bus passes.  This was because SCC’s Tory leadership had decided to provide these  travel passes at little more than the ‘statutory UK minimum’  –further details here. (The ‘statutory UK minimum’ argument, by the way,  is a good excuse but a bad decision because problems of transport are notoriously more difficult and disabling for those  of us who live in rural areas like Suffolk than in the more urban areas of the UK. ) The changes to Suffolk’s concessionary passes have affected 140,000 people, 7000 of whom are disabled.

Despite the huge cross-party support for my proposal  – all county councillors agreed that these changes are causing genuine hardship to many people with few if any alternatives – eight months on, nothing has happened.  The 133,000 elderly and 7,000 disabled bus pass users of Suffolk are still waiting for the Cabinet to get around to looking into the problem.

The costs of reversing these past decisions are estimated as £202,174.00 – 0.019% of SCC’s annual budget.

SCC decisions are made these days by the 14 members of a one-party Cabinet behind closed doors –  and only they can vote on them!  Not only does this system make a nonsense of the concept of democracy but it also creates ‘bottlenecks’ whereby urgent concerns – like the ones about concessionary passes – get sidelined.  Never was there a clearer example of why this system doesn’t work, and needs to change.  It is the very stereotype of councils getting enmeshed in process and not caring about outcome.”

Reversing the concessionary pass decisions would support full, affordable participation in society to two valuable groups of Suffolk residents: 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.  These people deserve to have their anxieties respected and allayed as soon as possible, while it seems only a democratic sine qua non that the concerns of so many of the County Councillors who represent them  should not be put to one side.

Petrol prices and public transport

So petrol price increases have “a massive impact on Suffolk’s rural community and economy”  because people in rural areas “are simply more dependent on cars”  (as we read in the EADT last week) ?  Under the current car-hugging SCC administration this is certainly the case.

Time after time our Conservative leaders have cut local bus services, telling us that the cost of supporting them is a luxury Suffolk that cannot afford.

Travel for bus users  is not a luxury. It is the only way that people who can’t drive or can’t afford a car can get to education and employment. Investment in the bus service is an investment in the future.

At last week’s SCC budget meeting, Suffolk’s Lib Dems  proposed, costed and identified the funds  to regain rural bus services for our young, our disabled, our workless, our carless:  a modest, achievable, useful investment in Suffolk’s future. It was dismissed out of hand by Leader Mark Bee, with a wave of the hand and a flip soundbite – and voted out by the voiceless Conservative majority who play such an uncritical game of ‘ follow the Leader’

Come on. It’s hardly rocket science. Let’s break the habit of  saying we can’t afford this investment.  In this current climate, Suffolk simply can’t afford not to afford it!

This letter led in the EADT today

County Council News: February

Full  council on February  9th was given over to  the budget  – allowing all councillors an opportunity to discuss the administration’s plans for the forthcoming year:

Although the Lib Dem opposition proposed, costed  and identified appropriate sources (including reducing the bulky Tory Cabinet by one post) to pay for  amendments which we continue to think of as a vitally important  investment in the future:

  • Re-instating Bury Road Park & Ride
  • Re-introducing the eXplore Card with a £25 admin fee;
  • Allowing those concessionary bus pass holders eligible due to disability to travel around the clock ;
  • Re-instating the bus routes cut last yearincluding evening and weekend services ;
  • Providing greater level of funding to the learning improvement service to allow for greater support to schools to increase attainment ;
  • Increasing the budget for Looked After Children to help develop alternatives to costly out of county placements;
  • NEETS Apprenticeship Scheme – allowing SCC to employ 50 further apprentices;
  • Providing £2.5m of funding to Adult Services each year over the next two years to aid the transition to more preventative care;

these timely, appropriate, and necessary amendments were  dismissed out of hand.  Yes, the need is great, yes, the funding sources are feasible and clearly identified – yet, because these sensible proposals come from the Lib Dem opposition, all  the acknowledgement Suffolk gets is  the scoffing: “Written on the back of a fag packet,” from new Leader, Mark Bee. Demonstrating once again that drearily familiar combination of  soundbite reasoning  and playground  insult-trading that the Tories at SCC continue to mistake for intelligent argument and witty repartee. 

Could someone remind them that the county councillors  of Suffolk are supposedly elected by the people in Suffolk to use the finances of Suffolk for the benefit of the people Suffolk, rather than deluding themselves  that they are in the House of Commons and playing at PMQs? 

Bus users, care users, school users, NEETS – and all those who care anything about people in these categories – please note. 

Gritting: When  the weather finally turned wintry, those additional  grit bins  funded from my this year’s locality budget  finally came into their own. On the Sunday of the first snow, three volunteers and  I spent four hours shovelling and gritting a path up California, across the Ipswich Road and down the Ipswich Road footway to the John Grose garage (my pedometer made this 3.5km of paths shovelled). By Monday morning  everywhere round these these routes were ice. The Woodbridge initiative was picked up and praised by the national charity Living Streets. . 

I have still money in my Locality Budget for places where there are as yet no bins but where residents would make use of them..

I’d be grateful if  town councillors would continue to encourage people  not to wait for ‘someone to do something’  but to volunteer to grit  those public pavements that  concern them, otherwise this duty falls on the few.  If they give their names to the Town Clerk  they won’t have to think of worrying about the urban myth that those who clear the pavements ‘could end up  being sued’.

If anyone is very anxious they can read Directgov’s formal advice :http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Nl1/Newsroom/DG_191868 ,

 Warm Homes, Healthy People   SCC has received £265,000 from the Government to help those who may struggle with fuel payments in the remaining winter months. This money will be spent on:

  • Advice via Borough and district councils to anyone struggling to keep warm this winter
  • A central telephone number (Winter Wellbeing Helpline) people can call for information, advice and support.   Tel: 08456 037 686 
  • Independent energy advisors to visit households struggling to pay their energy bills to offer advice and install measures to save money and energy
  • roadshows  from Suffolk Acre to promote their good neighbour and community oil buying schemes
  • Match funding for Suffolk Foundation’s ‘Surviving Winter’ Appeal to extend the groups supported to include children and young people with learning disabilities
  • Installation of free extreme temperature sensors in vulnerable people’s homes
  • A befriending service

 No Stress Street Parties   SCC is simplifying the application process for street parties in time for the Jubilee and from 8 February, the county council will be the only council responsible for all street party applications. This will make the process smoother for events taking place on Suffolk highways. People considering organising a street party in Suffolk can now obtain a ‘Special Events Order’ through the county council’s website or even over the phone via Customer Service Direct.

To ensure minimal impact on traffic flow, the county council is urging party organisers to consider celebrating in community areas such as recreation grounds, cul-de-sacs and ‘no through roads’. Residents will incur no fee if they are able to do this.

New Rail Services    The new Greater Anglia franchise is now up and running. This is for only 18 months so consultation for the next franchise is ongoing. I attended the Suffolk Rail Policy Group last week  where there was a discussion of how the county’s further needs should be met. This was around presentations from Network Rail and National Express. It seemed to me that the needs of the London line  – which merely travels through Suffolk – were being pushed by these two organisations – to the exclusion of other issues that affect Suffolk more closely: the east-west services to Cambridge and Peterborough for example. Many Suffolk residents may consider that the shaving of minutes off the total Norwich-London travelling time is of fairly nugatory importance considering  the travel times and opportunities on other Suffolk lines. If you have any feelings on this I would suggest you put them in writing immediately to  kerry.allen@suffolk.gov.uk, as the group intend to create a consolidatory document by the end of the month.

Admissions to schools in 2013/14 – Draft policies consultation   Suffolk County Council has launched a consultation regarding their policies for admission to schools next year. It includes the admissions policy for community, voluntary controlled, voluntary aided, foundation/trust schools, academies and free schools in Suffolk. Since there are proposals for at least 2 non-traditional free schools in the Woodbridge area (Steiner and Maharishi).   You can find the consultation – and the policies that the council wishes to implement  – online at this web address