Since Suffolk County Council took over administering the Concessionary Bus pass scheme from the district councils, they have managed a significant underspend every year which they use to fund other things – not necessarily connected with public transport. This is cynical and inappropriate –and is defended by the council with the limp rationale that this money is ‘not ringfenced.’
Can I remind you of the importance of bus transport for the elderly and disabled in a large rural county like ours – and the impact on services which this cheeseparing decision has had, through the law of unintended consequences?
BUT , last week Suffolk County Council’s 2014-15 budget outturn (revealed at last week’s Cabinet) showed definitively a Passenger Transport underspend of £400,000 due mainly to half a million pounds of savings in spend on Concessionary Travel. On being questioned, the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport has confirmed that similar savings have been made every year since the County Council took over the administration of the Concessionary Travel scheme from the district councils.
The dreadful thing about this underspend is that SCC do not allow the elderly or disabled people to use their bus passes before 9.30 in the morning, because they say it is ‘unaffordable,’ AND in July 2011 Council voted to support a motion put forward by myself -as Shadow Spokesperson for Transport – to change this! They voted that concessionary bus pass holders eligible due to age should be able to travel using their passes from 9am during the week, in addition to removing all time limitations for disabled pass holders. (Full details here)
This decision was undemocratically quashed by Cabinet on the grounds of cost (estimated at that time to be around £200,000).
In other words, four years ago the entire membership of Suffolk County Council voted for an action that would help the most vulnerable members of our county, the Cabinet undemocratically overruled the council’s decision on the grounds of cost, and now it seems as if the over-ruling was made on a spurious and mistaken basis – to put it mildly!
In full council last week I reminded the current Cabinet Member for Transport of the decision to overrule Councils vote and I asked: “As arguments of cost are groundless from the evidence of these outturn figures, will the Cabinet member now engage to revisit and reinstate that decision, so that the concessionary pass holders of Suffolk can once again enjoy the same benefits they had before the County Council took over administration of the scheme – and which, in some cases (the blind, for example) they had enjoyed since the Second World War!”