Category Archives: NEET

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.

Loss of more rural Suffolk bus services: 164, 165

More terrible news for the bus users of Suffolk. And especially those who cannot, cannot afford to, or are prevented by health and/or age considerations from driving a car.  I have just had confirmation that the very popular Anglian bus 164 and 165 routes are to finish on June 28.

The status posting  on their Facebook page says:

A decision has been made to cease the operation of services164 and 165 with effect from Friday 28th June 2013.
Both services have been operating at a significant loss, since Suffolk County Council withdrew the subsidy from the 165 in August 2012 and the losses are unsustainable.

‘ The 164 and 165 services are greatly loved and regularly used by many different Woodbridge people (including myself!). The loss of these services will have a dreadful impact on bus users all the way down Suffolk Coastal from Leiston to Woodbridge!

It will have an impact on travel to education, employment and training – and thus upon NEETS.

It will show up the Suffolk Conservative election pledge of a revived Youth Travel card as an exercise in lipservice. (What use is a youth travel card if there is no bus to travel on? )

It will continue the negative effect on tourism caused by our crackbrained system which sees would-be visitors to Suffolkk 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. The Curious County? I rather think so!

I have been in contact with colleagues , constituents and Anglian Buses about this sad situation. Please continue contacting me about this. We must remember that the issue of rural transport is not a problem for  ‘other people’ – it affects us all

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 Young Person’s Travel Card: “I’ll be back!”

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

Wow!

Today Suffolk County Council bite the bullet and announce that they’re planning a new discount travel card for young people in Suffolk  “in a bid to remove transport barriers for young people across the county” as the Cabinet Member for Transport so disingenuously puts it.

Yes that’s right. Although the press release doesn’t mention it this is the very same Cabinet member who abolished the Explore young persons discount travel card  in April 2011 halfway through the academic year. By doing this he knowingly placed huge – in some cases insurmountable – transport barriers  between  opportunities for employment and education and  a whole cohort of Suffolk’s young people.

Once again we are back in TopsyTurveyland.

When the Explore card was cut in 2011 (as part of the New Strategic Direction ideology and supposedly on grounds of ‘cost), the Liberal Democrats warned that it was a terrible thing to do in a rural county at a time of economic instability and would cause significant damage to the educational, work and training prospects of the 55000 young people who used it.  And it did.

And the Conservatives heard full details directly from Suffolk Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from thousands of the young people affected .We all told them  that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job –with huge longterm implications for Suffolk’s budget.  But the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport memorably replied, “you can’t spend a pound more than once.’

In that year SCC underspent by £13m of our pounds – enough to fund the Explore card many many times over . 

As academic standards in Suffolk have slipped and more and more young people became NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) it seems that the point has finally got across.  Thank goodness the Conservatives are now prepared to make a U-turn before they cause any further damage, even if they can’t bring themselves to admit that this is what they are doing.

Bringing back this card is obviously a successful outcome for the Suffolk Liberal Democrats ‘ work, and, more importantly, for all the young people and their families who have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn. Yet we are left looking at the damage caused in the last two years and wondering why it has it taken so long for the Conservatives to admit it.  Why on earth didn’t they review the Explore card costs rather than cutting it completely- as they did – and leaving many young people struggling to get to college and employment?

Let’s be frank: young people’s travel is an issue that should have been extremely important throughout the years, and not just when the Conservatives are looking at the May elections!  The cynical opportunism of the entire exercise is breathtaking!!

Explore - kidsand banners (532x800)

Change a Suffolk Child’s Life Chances

Suffolk Adoption Agency is urgently appealing for more people to  consider adoption, and provide a permanent family for Suffolk’s looked-after children.

At the moment there are 27 children in Suffolk who need  to be adopted if they are going to have the same chances in life as their peers. 

Why is this?

Simply, we mean well by ‘care’ , we do our best, but right across the UK ‘looked-after’ children remain the most vulnerable  in society.  And although they need the most support, nationally the outcome for such children is dreadful.  35% of children in residential care leave at 16 and 56% before they turn 18. Almost half of those leaving care at 16 are not in education, employment or training when they reach 19. Nationally, children  in care are more likely to end up with worse exam results, to have poor mental and physical health, to be convicted of crimes, and unemployed or out of education.

All for the want of a family.

And this is simply because a ‘corporate parent’ is not and cannot be a parent.  An organisation – with the best will in the world – cannot replace a domestic bond.  It cannot love, it cannot nag, it cannot hope or fear or turn up proudly for graduations or weddings, or or remember birthdays and Christmas as a parent does.  And a parent is not just for Christmas – a parent is for life – for practical and emotional support in both directions through good times and bad. Who does a young person who has been a child in care fall back on?

For some ‘looked after’ children,  return to their birth family is simply not an option.

In Suffolk, 27 children are waiting to be adopted. The Suffolk Adoption Agency is particularly looking for families for children aged  over 3, for sibling groups and for children with disabilities.

National Adoption Week is 5-9th November. If you think you could change a child’s life changes, call 0800 389 9417, or go to the Suffolk Adoption Agency website