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for all the young people and their families who have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn.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)

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Woodbridge Library needs Friends!

Save Woodbridge Library - and all the others in Suffolk. We love them and use them
Save Woodbridge Library – and all the others in Suffolk. We love them and use them

After huge protest from Suffolk residents of all ages and backgrounds,  kickstarted by the Lib Dem councillors and the library-loving residents of  Woodbridge, Suffolk County Council’s administration backed down on some of their more worrying  threats. Instead it has outsourced  the Library organisation into an Industrial and Provident Society for the benefit of the community.  This means that the Suffolk Library system has become a member-based organisation  of individual libraries.

Under these new proposals there are no planned closures for Libraries in the County – which is  a (at least  temporary) relief.  However, each of the Libraries will be tasked to make 5% savings on top the savings that are already embedded in the proposals.  This may mean an increase in volunteers, more fund-raising events, or changing suppliers for maintenance contracts. Funding is only guaranteed  by SCC for the first two years. Additionally, those libraries that do not have community groups are run by the IPS and have considerably less autonomy, because they have no representation on the board.
This is becoming a problem in Woodbridge.

Because Woodbridge Library is  run by the IPS , decision-making occurs without any local involvement . A notable example is the matter of the moving in of Suffolk Coastal District services to the Woodbridge Library premises without consultation or consideration of local wishes or requirements.  All moneys earned by the Library go back to the IPS, rather than being spent at the discretion of  us locals.  In the case of the Tourist Information point, neither Woodbridge Library or the residents of Woodbridge were even consulted as to the amount of rent SCDC should be paying(!).  Indeed the whole issue appears to have been discussed between officers without any input from or reference to elected local councillors or the Library itself.

In this case Suffolk Coastal district council wished to save money, and didn’t specifically have  Woodbridge interests at heart. There are rumours that they were offering as low as £2000 per annum rent for the ir occupancy of part of the library – and the Library’s consequent reduction of income-generating space.  Is it best value? If they don’t disclose we cannot know.  A Friends group would help Woodbridge to ensure it gets best value from and for its Library space!

It is now time to set up a Friends of Woodbridge Library group to allow the people of Woodbridge – and the surrounding district – a greater degree of control.

Please contact Woodbridge Library if you want to be part of this -we’d love it if you did! 

Update: it looks like the first meeting will be in the afternoon, 16 March

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Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge