Category Archives: Your councillor

Fair rail fares – have your say!

There is two more weeks to reply to the DfT’s consultation on Rail Fares. Please do so, via this link so that there is a chance (however faint) that rail fares could start going down rather than rocketing. As they have done for twenty years and more.

Dear Department for Transport,

My name is Caroline Page, and I am the County Councillor for Woodbridge in Suffolk – which is in  a beautiful rural location. We are lucky in Woodbridge to have one of the few rural stations left in Suffolk after Beeching’s cuts.

Rural public transport is very important for those people who can’t, can’t afford to, or are prevented from driving by age, ill health or ethical considerations.  Like many others in rural Suffolk,  I use the train a lot: I regularly  visit elderly parents in Cambridge, a student daughter in Sheffield, and go to London for specialist appointments and so on. I also use the train for work, and social activities.

If you don’t have a car, rail fares are very important – as is the need to travel on a train at a moment’s notice. We are lucky that we have ‘walk-on’ discounted fares within our  portion of East Anglia, but the moment that we step outside, ticket pricing becomes unaffordable. In the past I have needed to get to places such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Portsmouth and Coventry for crises and bereavements at  a moment’s notice  and the cost of such rail travel has been outrageous and (frankly) extortionate and added greatly to the stress of the situation.  I once had to make a trip to Liverpool because of a bereavement, and same day rail travel actually cost practically the same amount as asking a taxi to drive me there. Can this be reasonable??

I am asking you to remember, and consider that  people who need to make immediate, on-the-day, rail trips are often  poorer or less able than others – who have the option of driving. What can be the rationale for discouraging off-peak travel by charging such appallingly greedy and inappropriate ‘walk-on’ fares when trains are so empty for so much of the day ?

Additionally many people would like to travel at weekends,  and on bank holidays to visit family or tourist destinations. The train would seem ideal. Oddly enough however, customer demand is not seen as a reason for the train companies to encourage us onto trains by good service and special fares. Instead it is seen as an excuse to charge us a high price for the shoddiest service I have ever experienced in a life of train-travel. I was talking to some railworkers, as we stood nose-to-nose on a late, diverted train to Cambridge over a recent bank-holiday, and they said they found it a very hard and unsatisfying  element in their job to be working to the demands of share-holders rather than travellers (or customers as we are so uncharmingly called) and providing such a service at such a steep price.

The rail fares review could be the biggest shake-up of our fares system for decades. At a time of belt-tightening, and peak oil, the country needs to have a reliable affordable rail service to encourage and support non-driving.

We  therefore  need to make sure that this review – an opportunity for cheaper, simpler, fairer fares –  is not wasted. UK rail fares must start going down not up. The cost of train tickets in the UK is already eye watering – far higher  than in other parts of Europe. Last summer I travelled in very pricy Norway, and was astonished to find that while a pint of beer was several times more expensive than in the UK, train travel was much cheaper (as well as better integrated and more frequent). Yet Norway is even more rural than the UK.

Government fare hikes mean prices for most tickets in 2015 will be 24% more expensive than they were in 2011. This is unreasonable and inappropriate : rail should be a public service not a ‘rich man’s toy’. Most particularly it should not pander to the requirements of people travelling ‘on expenses’ at the expense of those needing transport for the most basic reasons.  Trains are a vital link between people and the places they go to work, study, relax and spend their money. Both people who already use the train and people who are occasional users should have a stake in having a fit-for-purpose, affordable railway. If we actually ensured it was, we would have much better usage in ‘non-peak’ situations and help support the largely overlooked rural travellers (such as my constituents), as well as those in city termini.

 

What’s been happening in Suffolk: June 2012

Woodbridge Jubilee beacon from across the Deben. The beacon was built and lit by 1st Woodbridge Scouts

Over the last month everyone was concerned with the Queen’s Jubilee. However I single out for special notice Suffolk County Council – who, for reasons best known to themselves, held a party on the evening of  4th June  to celebrate the  SCC Jubilee beacon being lit. They were clearly oblivious to the notion that any County Councillor worth their salt would  be on their own home patch enjoying local celebrations, and  their local beacon. At least I was.

Other things of importance:

Suffolk Circle If you remember, a couple of years back SCC committed £680,000 over 3 years to fund a ‘good neighbours ‘scheme in Suffolk. This was, to put it mildly, a controversial decision. Last month I told you that Suffolk Circle’s first year of operation was looked at in critical detail by the Scrutiny Committee to assess whether it was an effective/cost-effective means of providing support  to the over 50s. The main recommendations of the Committee were:

  1. Any proposed future partnerships between the County Council and third party organisations should be looked at by Scrutiny before any final decisions are taken by Cabinet;
  2. the Committee be provided with details of the outcomes from the Business Review of the Suffolk Circle ;
  3. the Business Review should take account of different mixes of income from tokens and subscriptions and developing closer working with the voluntary sector, in the context of planning for Years 2 and 3;
  4. the County Council and the Suffolk Circle should give consideration to how marketing could be used:

i.            to encourage members from rural communities to join;

ii.            to proactively reach out to the most vulnerable people in Suffolk;

iii.            to clearly demonstrate in plain English the benefits of membership to potential members;

  1. the County Council and Suffolk Circle take steps to improve communication with voluntary sector organisations, including a proactive approach to signposting services; and
  2. the Committee be provided with data regarding the number of membership renewals and the demographic make up of the membership, using Acorn data.

I will keep you up to date when I hear more from the County about the Circle.

New Chairman, New Travel Card The Annual General Meeting of Suffolk County Council took place on the 24th of May, where Cllr Jeremy Pembroke, the former leader and Conservative councillor for Cosford was appointed Chairman for the next year. Anne Whybrow, Conservative member for Stowmarket was also elected as the Vice-Chair.  At the same time the Lib Dem party announced that our Leader, Kathy Pollard, has stepped down, after a  prolonged brush with very ill-health, and is replaced by Cllr David Wood.

Cllr Mark Bee then gave a State of Suffolk Address, in which he highlighted the main aims for the year and reviewed the past year.   Interestingly, in this  he heralded the return on an Oyster-type young persons travel card because issues of transport are causing such harm to the education and employment prospects of the young people of Suffolk. Equally interestingly, he failed to mention that this was required to replace the  Explore young person’s travel card which his own administration (under previous leader Jeremy Pembroke) decided to cut halfway through the last academic year and which has already caused significant harm to the education and employment prospects of young people in Suffolk.

Any sign of a restoration is obviously a successful outcome for me, my party and the members of Just 42, amongst others: we  have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn.  However the proposal is currrently limited to the young people of Ipswich, who  Scrutiny discovered have suffered least from the withdrawal.  It  must be extended as soon as possible if the Leader’s words are to mean anything at all. I have blogged, written and spoken publicly on how necessary this is if we are to support the badly-affected young people of rural Suffolk  to support themselves.

We also welcomed Cllr Bee’s announcement of a one-post Cabinet post reduction  for the next year. My party has been calling for such a reduction for two years.

Textiles Recycling Scheme Launched The Suffolk Waste Partnership has recently launched a scheme where residents across the entire County will be able to recycle clothes.  I do have some concerns about the effect of this scheme on charities, although the Council says that the aim is not to take away the clothes that would be donated, but to try to redirect some of the 7,000 tonnes of clothing that goes to landfill each year.   Having said this, they then supply a list of  those items that are deemed acceptable and unacceptable – many of which would be acceptable at a charity shop.

Acceptable items: all clean clothing, socks and shoes, boots, wellies, slippers, hats, scarves, gloves, bed linen, blankets, sheets, pillowcases, handbags, belts, clean underwear, curtains, towels, tea towels and stuffed toys

No thanks – dirty or oily items, duvets, quilts, sleeping bags, pillows, cushions and carpets.

All I say is, please remember to give to charities anything you would have given before  – and only hand clearly unsaleable items to the recycling scheme. Re-use is better than recycling any day of the week.

County Councillor surgery My next surgery is this upcoming Saturday, 16th June, in the Woodbridge library. As ever, everyone is  welcome