Category Archives: Just 42

Explore travel card – Resurgam?

Ok, so guess what. The Explore card cut DID make an appearance at yesterday’s SCC scrutiny of NEET (young people Not In Education, Employment  or Training ).

Not, you understand,  that the Explore card was officially scheduled in, nor indeed was any witness called who was thought to know of , or wished to talk about, the Explore card.  Although Explore card  petitioners had asked  for information about this scrutiny  meeting and I had contacted the committee officer offering to provide evidence, we’d been greeted with silence.

Less than 24 hours before the meeting, petitioner Patrick Gillard  finally heard back  from Mark Bee:

The discussion between Cllr McGregor and myself with you, outside the Chambers included an explanation of the situation we are in and issues that had been experienced by students with the Post 16 discretionary scheme process for the half term only.  As part of this discussion, it was agreed that the issue with the process would be looked into and that the other issues would be forwarded to the next Scrutiny meeting.

Suffolk County Council procedures in respect of petitions says that any petitions should be presented and formally received, there is no further detail given on what should happen however it is recognised that this is an area that needs further clarity and this will be reviewed for the future.

The Scrutiny meeting on Tuesday 14th June 2011 is a public meeting which you are welcome to attend, if you would like to opportunity to speak this will need to be approved by the Chairman…. There will be an opportunity for the Committee to consider scrutiny of the impact on young people of the removal of the Explore card as part of item 5 – Young People not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) (16-24yrs) in Suffolk.

Less than 24 hours notice – yet Mr Gillard, and the young members of Woodbridge’s Just 42 broke engagements, cancelled college  and turned up. What commitment!

And just as well Patrick Gillard had managed to get last-minute permission to speak (and that I  happened to be substituting on the Scrutiny committee)   – because that meeting had somehow been arranged to talk about every aspect of young people’s deprivation EXCEPT TRANSPORT, though the witness from Suffolk Young Carers  did dwell upon the effects of explore card cut.  Otherwise, a group of (largely) town dwellers and car owners talked as if  all the young Suffolk NEETs had no greater problems of transport than  they did themselves!

Fortunately we managed to make the point sufficiently forcibly for the excellent new  Committee Chairman (Colin Hart)  to direct a Scrutiny Tast and Finish group to look at the problem and report back.  This was helped by a surprisingly receptive response to the cuts from Guy McGregor.

This is wonderful! SCC made no equality impact assessment before embarking on this cut -which  is the reason they appeared to have  no idea of how badly it would affect young people. Neither did they engage in any form of consultation whatsoever – which  is why they have been stating that  there were no options between cutting and not cutting the card. This is far from the case. All it has ever needed as a bit  less silo mentality from the departments and some divergent thinking.

Cllr McGregor has suggested one way forward (funding drawn from the EMA replacement subsidy).  I feel there may well be several  others – for example reducing the Explore card from an age 5-19 card  to one for post-16 only, or suggesting an annual parental subscription.

One thing is certain – after this meeting I feel confident that, if SCC finally provides the will , they will be able to find a way.

Suffolks NEET problem – and a neat solution

We have just learned that 1,100 Suffolk teenagers “have no work, training or college place to go to when they leave school“, that is, a staggering 1 in 13 are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training).   And although Suffolk County Council will be scrutinising NEET next week, it looks like the scrutiny will not be addressing one major identiable – and solvable – contributory factor:  Suffolk County Council’s cut of the post 16-Explore card – halfway through this academic year.

This is odd – because the council has had plenty of warnings as to the impact of this cut – and not just via this blog.  Back in February “Save the Explore Card” petitioner, Patrick Gillard warned them in person that the cut “will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis.

Last month, after handing in petitions with thousands of signatures, Mr Gillard and Otley College’s Greer Hill spoke eloquently on the subject at the SCC council meeting, as did the young people of Woodbridge’s Just 42 OTS club. I was one of several councillors who also spoke – all in support of reversing this damaging and short-sighted decision  (see my  blog entry ). However when we finished speaking, no outcome was reached, no decision minuted, no progress made:  the petitioners may as well have been talking to a wall.

Yet Suffolk’s pig-headed adherence to this damaging cut seems to exist without  thought of longterm financial and social implications for the county – or indeed any “joined up thinking”  between those responsible for Education/Training, for Social Care, and for Transport.

Remember the deaf adder of the Psalms , who “stoppeth her ears, and will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely?”  You begin to wonder if the SCC Cabinet has taken that snake’s correspondence course.

Suffolk County Council:  which part of the phrase “You got it wrong” can’t you hear?

Won’t these truly shocking NEET figures finally finally persuade you  to change your minds and restore this invaluable card to the young people of Suffolk?

A petition that won’t lie down: democracy and post-16 travel cards

Last week Suffolk’s  ‘Save the  eXplore Card’ petition earned the right to be discussed at full Council – having received over 6,000 signatures.   (To remind you: this  young person’s travel card, a brainchild of SCC’s last Lib-Lab Coalition, has been cut halfway through this academic year without any form of consultation or risk assessment by Suffolk County Council.)

Unfortunately, it turned out that SCC – having set up their e-petition site as a legal requirement – had not thought at all about what should happen after an e-petition had reached 3675 signatures  and was discussed at full council – as is required by the SCC constitution .

From the first there was great confusion.

The originator (Patrick Gillard)  found that his petition had not been acknowledged:  it still registers as ‘failed to achieve the requisite number of signatures’ on the epetition site.  SCC had not invited him to speak as he asked (and was his constitutional right). When he insisted on speaking, another speaker (Greer Hill, Otley College) was un-invited by SCC. After pressure from myself and Kathy Pollard, both speakers were finally allowed their 5 minutes  – but this left only 10 minutes for discussion.  SCC offered no explanation for this.  This was a grave discourtesy to the speakers and to all those thousands of petitioners  they represented.

Although this  petition was heard in the middle of GCSE, A.A/S and college exams, it was handed to Transport Portfolioholder Guy McGregor by a very large group of  Just 42 youth club members, other young people,  MYPs, councillors, and representatives of schools and colleges. These were eager to  explain their anxieties. Cllr McGregor’s  response was his old traditional theme “you can only spend a pound once.” He did not explain why he had failed to consult on this cut or explored alternative options. No explanation of this has ever been forthcoming!

At this point it turned out that two teenage members of Woodbridge’s Just 42  youth club , who had scheduled a public question, had not had this question acknowledged at all by SCC. I had to  go to great pains to get their  right to speak agreed  and it was only very few minutes before the debate that it was confirmed. This was another grave discourtesy – in this case,  to the youngest public questioners ever to address the council!

During the meeting, SCC’s new Leader Mark Bee spoke about a new era based on the principles of  Listening; Openness/ transparency; and Practical, common sense solutions to problems.  Although he mentioned other cuts,  he never directly mentioned the Explore card. The resounding silence of SCC’s administration re this cut and the lack of any consultation is one of the great mysteries of this year.

After the petitioners had spoken, Councillors from all parties had the opportunity to speak briefly before  the portfolio holder replied.  (my speech below). Cllr McGregor did not repoond to these concerns raised but merely re- asserted that  the cut was necessary.

At this point it became clear that no-one had any idea as to what was to happen nextClearly ending the process undemocratically, without a vote,  by means of a response from the very person who had organised, agreed and implemented the cut made the whole epetition process completely futile. After a heated exchange in the chamber, a  short recess was announced. During this  Mark Bee and Guy McGregor spoke directly to the young people from Just 42 and  promised that the problems of their particular cut would go  before scrutiny. This was however, outside the chamber, and remains unminuted.

The strength of the young people’s clear, polite and determined  objections made it clear to the administration at this point – if not before – quite how much people care about  this cut . These young people were not coming here to observe democracy: they were coming to take part!

Three  things are clear –

  • the Explore card may be dead but it ain’t lying down;
  • SCC MUST tell the petitioners officially  now, exactly what is to happen next
    – and finally;
  • SCC’s procedure for dealing with e-petitions MUST be defined before the next council meeting in order to prevent this a repeat of Thursday’s shambles and to ensure these petitions to perform the constitutional function for which they were created.

My speech on the Explore card 26 May 2011

We’ve heard first hand – from the thousands of responses to the petition, from those  addressed us – most of all from individual young people in our divisions – that this cut was a bad idea – a short term fix  that didn’t consider the future.

There was no impact assessment for this cut –made  halfway through the educational year. Instead SCC boxticker noted  blandly that

There may be an adverse impact to the 15-19 age group – but there was  no need for an impact assessment  as it is a discretionary activity and has been identified as a budget saving proposal

In other words – it will have an impact but we don’t care!

Rather like saying I’ll  pay my council tax because I have to  but  I won’t pay into a pension because I’m feeling poor. The explore card expenditure is not just money paid out – it is money invested in the future  it  IS our pension plan – The young people of Suffolk – future builders, magistrates, nurses, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, firemen, soldiers, carers, taxpayers – are our future and we will be relying on them in the years to come. It is in our interests to support them now so we can get the best out of them when we need them later on.

The administration tell us that we can’t afford it and that home-to-school transport cuts are  ameliorated by help with post-16 discretionary passes, and tempering the Catholic transport decision.

This is a red herring.

The Explore card is the most important home-to-school pass we had because it was such excellent value for money – giving halfprice travel at all times to all places to all young people at a total cost to the council of less than £30 a year for each of its 55,000 users!

Where a discretionary pass  gives one school day, school hour  journey each way at the cost of £150 a term to the parent and a lot more to the council, the explore card  was much more flexible- used by those studying in the evening or  multi-site, by those  wanting to attend a distant college because the local school didn’t run the course,, those on training courses outside the scope of Suffolk’s transport policy, starting a first time job or going to job interviews to find one. Those who want to go out safely in the evening, without worry about road conditions and ability to drive. Those who we don’t want to hang about the bus stop because they can’t afford to get on a bus. All  this for £30 a head.

Colleagues, we can afford this investment in our future. I won’t remind you of some of the recent headlines on SCC expenditure  but  we all know that it is not as simple as “can’t pay wont pay” . Even in a time of cuts there’s a large element of what we choose to pay for. Suffolk is poor but resilient – we’ve enough in the reserves to pay to reverse  this decision and continue investing this  £30 a head in the future of these young people and our county.