Category Archives: Suffolk County Council

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

Suffolk Buses reach their Beeching moment?

The First Bus decision to pull the plug on their Bury St Edmunds services and close the depot at the end of March  is a further step in the apparently unstoppable destruction of Suffolk’s public transport services. It is particularly tragic because – after Beeching’s shortsighted and illjudged railway decisions of the 60s – many parts of Suffolk are now not served by rail and have only a bus service to rely on. 
 
Now it’s Suffolk bus services that are at a Beeching moment.  Sadly, many council tax payers are are left reliant on the decisions of a county council administration that doesn’t value or support bus transport and that has made bus services the focus of recent budget cuts (remember, for example the Bury Road Park and Ride closure (details here)? last year’s loss of all evening/Sunday bus services to Woodbridge and beyond (details here)?). Such cuts have little personal impact on any councillor or officer who runs a car, and yet these are the people making the decisions.
 
SCC needs to remember that the impact of poor/non-existent bus services is felt amongst other very real people. People who pay their council taxes and contribute to the community but who also happen to be elderly, or poor, or disabled, as well as others who rely on the bus to reach their college or first time job in order to contribute to the future of Suffolk.  SCC decisionmaking should be addressing these people’s needs as well as pandering to those residents who pay no more tax but are lucky enough to be able to use a car!
 
Of course, we shouldn’t put all the blame on the county council. At national level, the Coalition needs to reverse the iniquitous deregulation of bus services, instituted under Thatcher, and shamefully supported by the last Labour government. Deregulation has left rural communities at the mercy of bus companies with little local interest or management presence, who can run the moneymaking routes as poorly as they choose. The County Council, on the other hand,  is only allowed to run ones that run at a loss.
 
Tell me, is this how the ‘free market’ gives us a better service?
 
Despite this,  SCC could choose to be far more proactive than it has been. It could lobby both Suffolk’s MPs and central government for increased support for rural public transport. It could also show that SCC cares though direct action to preserve scheduled bus services. In July’s council meeting, I proposed a motion to increase support to disabled and elderly bus user (details here) via improved bus pass conditions. This motion was passed almost unanimously by full council and referred back to the Cabinet.
 
Since July, Cabinet has overseen the revision, recasting, re-consultation, decisionmaking and embarkation of their new Library services despite few Suffolk residents wanting any change whatsoever. Many many Suffolk residents want changes to the new terms and conditions for bus pass holders. Has Cabinet looked at bus passes?  Six months on we’re still waiting for a date!
 
By the way, I note with interest that passengers who wish to register a complaint about the withdrawal of the Bury St Edmunds services are ‘advised to contact First buses directly on 08456 020 121’. I suggest that this is precisely what people should do
 
This is a slightly extended version of my letter to the EADT  published today, 18-01-2012.