Tag Archives: concessionary passes

Better Bus Passes WERE affordable all the time!

Emprotesting2 (2)
Bus passes are hugely important for both disabled and elderly bus users

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!”

Concessionary bus passes – no debate necessary?

Once again SCC Conservatives misuse Suffolk’s Cabinet system to stifle democracy.  This time, by forcing through an unpopular and unreasonable decision on concessionary bus fares for the disabled and elderly without allowing questions or debate!

Let’s face it – the easiest way to get people to do what you want is not to allow them any other option. And it does save the bother of answering awkward questions!

For the last 18 months my Lib Dem colleagues and I have been trying to increase the newly imposed restrictions on the bus pass scheme so as to offer free 24/7 transport to disabled pass holders, and travel from 9am for the elderly. Currently all pass holders are restricted to weekday travel from 9.30 to 23.00 . A tragedy for those for whom bus travel is the only option to staying at home; a farce for all of us rural folks whose buses stop in the early evening and run poorly or not at all at weekends (click here for details)

SCC Tories refer to our proposals as ‘enhancements’ and proclaim that the key issue is ‘one of budget priority’ (eg unaffordable – an argument that would be considerably more credible if we didn’t know how much they have stashed away at low interest in  reserves). In fact the issue is one of demand, of need and of legality. Using the word  ‘enhancements’ is rather cheeky. The current scheme was agreed last year and provides significant reductions to a very long term status quo.  The visually handicapped, for example,  had been eligible for free 24/7 passes since WW2!  And for many others, these passes are not luxuries. They are necessities.

SCC’s reductions to the status quo (or rather, the poor and unrigorous process by which they were arrived at) were the subject of a concerned letter from Britain’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission.  This underlined – amongst other things – the extraordinarily poor consultation and Impact Assessments Suffolk’s Cabinet had used to support their  decision-making:

‘Your decision-makers must be made aware in substance of the council’s duty to have due regard to the equality goals in the equality duties.  The ‘due regard’ must be exercised with rigour and with an open mind. It is not a question of ticking boxes.’

As many may know I’m the carer for a relative with a catastrophic health condition, and on the morning of the meeting, was confronted with an unexpected medical emergency. However I emailed four questions to be asked on my behalf. In vain. SCCs Conservative Cabinet decided not to examine its own poor  track-record on decision-making and evidence gathering – and waved their decision on Concessionary Fares through without the courtesy of any debate AT ALL.

J’y suis, j’y reste,” as the General said at Sebastapol.

This action stifled any public airing of their questionable assumptions on finances, their cavalier attitude to equality impact assessments and the shameful farce of their 12 day consultation. Just another example of how undemocratic the Conservatives want the Cabinet process to be.

Yet they could have retired from the field moderately gracefully – and with a perfectly reasonable saving of face. As the Tories’ claims about costs were made on the flimsiest of foundations, a reasonable response would be to agree to provide ‘enhancements’ to Suffolk’s 7,000 disabled pass-holders for 1 year and see how expensive this was in actuality.  Or did they not want to be proved wrong?

It is a disgrace that the disposition of such important issues  should be decided by this small group of unrepresentative individuals, who refuse to listen to reason or their electorate.

So much for Democracy in Suffolk.

Since writing this I have discovered Epilepsy Society have started a campaign for changes to the disabled persons’ pass to allow pass-holders to travel at peak times – with a companion if necessary.  (And if you have intractable epilepsy, a companion may be very necessary. ) Along with visual impairment, epilepsy is a condition where bus travel can be a lifeline – as I know from personal experience!

What’s Happening at SCC : December 2012

Preparing for Winter : Gritbins With the first of the winter cold on the way, I have been using my locality budget to fund 4 further grit bins in areas of Woodbridge that still require them: Millview Close/Naunton Road, Peterhouse Crescent, Nelson Way and Barton Road. If you know of any other areas that still might need covering –and if there is at least one volunteer prepared to grit – I still have locality money for the purpose.

New Greater Anglia hourly service Lowestoft-Ipswich This started on 9 December. I travelled on the opening train of this service along with other County, SCDC and Town and Parish Councillors and took the opportunity to ask Greater Anglia Customer Service Director Andrew Goodrum about proposed ticket machines at Woodbridge station.

You will be pleased to know there is absolutely no need to lobby for these as they have been purchased a while back. (They are not yet installed as they need weatherproofing because they are designed for indoor use.)

However, as a frequent traveller on the Network I alerted Mr Goodrum about the difficulty of purchasing that most invaluable of Greater Eastern discount tickets – a Day Ranger – at the Ipswich ticket machines, and he undertook to make sure that this would be remedied both here and at Ipswich.

Cabinet:   Today, the SCC Cabinet will be discussing a range of matters including –

  • whether to enhance Suffolk’s Concessionary Fares further – as a result of the consultation after the last Lib Dem call in. This long running saganhas now notched up yet another level of intensity after the Equality and Human Rights Commission wrote to CEO Deborah Cadman to complain about SCC’s initial poor level of consultation, and the fact there had been no initial Equal Impact Assessment. It has asked to have written notification of the outcome of today’s meeting
  • Procurement of Highways services – and decide formally whether to award the contract to Balfour Beatty.
  • Suffolk Rail Strategy – creation of a rail prospectus for Suffolk which is aiming for hourly services between Ipswich and Peterborough, and new inter-city rolling stock.

Council Budget – Round 1:   At the end of November, the County Council announced the first version of the 2013 budget. This was discussed and questioned at the recent Scrutiny Committee.

This year will see a further reduction of £24.9m, as part of a two year programme to reduce the budget by just over £50m. As seen last year, many of the services are looking to efficiencies rather than specific service cuts, however the Lib Dems are extremely concerned that these reductions will hide damage to the County’s frontline services. Aongst the most concerning are that there will be a significant reduction in Adult and Community Services of £7m, and another reduction of £2.5m in Children and Young People’s services. There are both areas which have significant pressures, and help to protect the vulnerable in our community. The Lib Dems are very concerned that the continual savings being sought in these areas will impact on those people we need to help.

There is also a significant concern about the number of services that are currently divested, and questions about how these contracts will be monitored, and whether us as Councillors will be able to scrutinise the services that the public are paying for.

I will continue to keep you updated as to the latest news regarding the budget for 2013 as the process continues.

Surgery:   My last surgery of the year will be on December 15th, 10-12 at the Library as ever. If you are lucky, there might even be mince-pies