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

Shhh: Concessionary bus passes – the very QUIET Consultation

OK, the saga of Suffolk’s cheeseparing provision for bus passes for the disabled and elderly goes on and on.

Three weeks back SCC’s scrutiny committee decided that  Suffolk’s Conservative run County Council had NOT consulted fully, OR considered the impact of its decision (see here for details) when it reduced the terms of travel for Suffolk’s 140,000 passholders, 7,000 of whom are people holding disabled passes.

(And of which group I unexpectedly – about a year after this saga first started and I first got involved – became a member. Perhaps the Cabinet needs to ponder upon this. Make all your decisions about ‘them’ with care. Who knows  when ‘they’ may suddenly become ‘us’. Just saying).

I digress.

SCC  is now getting around to the consultation. And, bearing in mind it took them a full year to look at their decision the first time, they are moving pretty speedily, if remarkably quietly. So quietly that the Lib Dems  – as Councillors, as the SCC official opposition party, as the political group who asked for this to happen, and (in my own case, not only as spokesperson for Transport and representative of the elderly and disabled people of Woodbridge,  but also a disabled passholder,  and a 24/7 carer of another disabled passholder on my own account) – have been left out of the  loop completely.

I only heard about the consultation SCC is now doing for the Concessionary bus passes when it was mentioned in passing yesterday, by a spokesman for a specific disability group!

There are three elements to the consultation.

  1. A sample survey of the two user groups (that is, elderly pass holders, and disabled persons ) asking them to answer a questionnaire
    3% of pass holders eligible by age
    10% of pass holders eligible by disability
    20% of pass holders who have travel voucher;
  2. A survey monkey survey to the operators asking their experience of the concessionary fares scheme – eg. overcrowding issues ;
  3. Distribution of the questionnaire to user groups asking for comments either about the questionnaire or about the scheme itself:
    Optua
    RNIB
    Age Concern
    Outreach Youth
    Suffolk Family Carers
    Suffolk Consortium of User Led Organisations and Individual Disabled People.

Everyone else wishing to comment should do so via this email address: concessionarytravel@suffolk.gov.uk 

So, if this concerns you, don’t delay, email today.   The consultation finishes on November 9th!

 

What’s been happening at SCC – October

Various exciting things have been happening this last month. On a county-wide stage we have managed to get Suffolk to recognise that its decisions about Concessionary bus passes (that is, those for the disabled and the elderly) were made without adequate consultation. On a local level, I have managed to turn around the current situation regarding the Just 42 youth club. From having been offered no lease whatsoever at the  Woodbridge Youth Club  since August last year – and well-grounded concerns as to its future, Just 42 have now been offered a ten-year lease on the whole building  (- and watch this space. More is to come)

Suffolk forced to look (yet) again at  its decisions on Elderly and Disabled Bus Passes Suffolk’s County Council Cabinet has been forced to look again at their decision to provide only the statutory minimum free travel  for the elderly and disabled (0930-2300 weekdays, all day weekends and bank holidays), after the Liberal Democrat Group called the decision into the Scrutiny Committee at the end of September.

I (as proposer) and CllrDavid Wood(as seconder) presented the case that Cabinet’s decision had failed to take account of a number of important principles, most particularly  a lack of consultation of those affected, the negative impact the decision had on many peoples’ lives, the openness of the decision-making, and the insufficient evidence provided to justify the decision. We also pointed out that SCC underspent on this part of their plans for public transport by the best part of a million pounds this year, yet had no problem in finding an extra £1.3 million for better broadband (see below).

The number of public speakers (largely representing a range of disability groups) at the meeting and the written submissions (from other disability groups) that arrived in the week before the meeting, highlighted the lack of proper consultation before the decision was made.  Cabinet only looked at one submission about impact when they made their decision, – and that was because that user group  had heard about the meeting and asked specifically to contribute.

The Committee voted by seven votes to three to send this decision back to the Cabinet to be reconsidered.

I will keep you updated of any news as to when this will be.  In the meantime if you would like more information about the Call-in, please head to my blog piece about it.

NB Just to remind you, I  originally raised this issue back in July 2011, when I was able to persuade the entire Council to put aside party political differences and ask  Cabinet to look again at what it had decided to provide for Concessionary Bus Passes  and provide 24/7 travel for those eligible due to disability and allow those elderly pass holders to travel from 09.00. It took from July 11 to July 12 for Cabinet to get around to acceding to this.

Just 42 and the Woodbridge Youth Club   Excellent news! After some firm negotiation, SCC is now offering significantly differing terms to Just 42 than those which SCC has been proposing for the last 18 months. As follows:

  •  A new 10 year lease (excluded from security of tenure but see below) to be granted to Just 42;
  • Mutual annual break clauses (see 3) after three years;
  • Just 42’s position will be protected in that SCC’s right to bring the lease to an end will be conditional upon SCC providing adequate alternative facilities for Just 42 (the term ‘adequate’ to include external as well as internal facilities!);
  • The extent the area to be exclusively used by Just 42 to be agreed, together with rest of the buildings that may be available to other parties;
  • Just 42 will make the building available to other Community users when not in use by Just 42: such details to be agreed in due course;
  • SCC currently use an area of the building as an office on occasions & it is envisaged that this will continue

These proposals – although they look  very suitable – haven’t yet been accepted. We are busy checking the small-print to ensure that Just 42  – and other groups – are in no way disadvantaged!

I am immensely grateful to Charles Notcutt, the Mayor of Woodbridge,  for his presence at the last meeting. It has seemed in the past that many decisions were being made by officers at SCC and SCDC without  recognising the needs and requirements of Woodbridge and the Woodbridge young people. I therefore insisted on tsuitable respresentation from Woodbridge Town, and Mr Notcutt was kind enough to make time for this.

(Incidentally, this is by no means the end of the matter – but will give those who are providing  for  the young people of Woodbridge some much-needed security  and relief from anxiety while concrete plans for the long-term future. I now suggest that  I and the other members of the  group set up at July’s council meeting should now meet with my new Locality Officer to discuss an overarching plan that would meet the needs of Woodbridge youth over the longer term and within the plans for the town.)

 September County Council Meeting and 20mph The County Council meeting in September had quite a light agenda, but proved remarkably eventful.

As there was only one motion (about improving localism to support towns that wished to adopt 20mph speed limits in towns) it could be assumed that the meeting would have passed without any significant issues. As you know this is an issue which is hotly debated in Woodbridge.

However, an amendment proposed by Conservative administration to the 20mph motion changed every word  -and the meaning and intention – of the original text, leaving council to discuss things which SCC was already doing! The opposition parties pointed this out – but when the Council Chariman and officers refused to accept that this changed motion left us debating the status quo, the opposition parties – apart from the proposer and seconder of the motion, had no option but to leave the Council chamber. Full details  here.

This is another example of the stifling of democracy at Suffolk County Council, which is also so apparent in the way in which the Cabinet makes decisions without reference to the other members of its own party, let alone those of the opposition parties!

Grit bins (again!) Now is the time to be looking towards the winter cold. I know we only had a couple of days of real ice last winter – but we can certainly not rely on it!  If anyone knows of areas where bins would be useful – and here I am thinking specifically of Peterhouse and the Warwick Avenue area, I can fund them and the Town Clerk will be happy to buy them on my – and your – behalf!

Remembrance Day  After listening to the Rev McCormack’s wonderfully inclusive words at last Remembrance Day, I have been asking if it would be possible to have a non-religious presence on the Shire Hall steps for Remembrance Day. This would represent the 1 in 5 people in Woodbridge (as in Suffolk as a whole, and the UK in general) who see themselves as ‘Good without God’  and to recognise how many of such people have served and died in the name of  their country without any religious beliefs to sustain them – and who are doing so to this day. I am glad to say that this has now been accepted as  a valid point. After talking to the new Rock Barracks padre yesterday, it looks like he may be able to find a suitable acting soldier to undertake such a role for Woodbridge on this important and highly significant day.

Grand Driver Scheme  The Grand Driver scheme has just been launched: to help assist the continuation of safe driving as people get older. Older drivers are the fastest growing driving population in Suffolk.  Although there’s evidence to suggest that the likelihood of crashes increases with age, older adults are also renowned as safety-conscious and law-abiding drivers.

The scheme comprises  3 main elements: Insight and awareness of attitudes to driving and self-regulatory behaviour, An opportunity to update and refresh knowledge and discuss driving matters at workshops arranged throughoutSuffolkand a driving assessment and feedback in your own vehicle focusing on safe driving and coping strategies.

More information can be obtained from Michelle Haward: 01473 265256  Michelle.haward@suffolk.gov.uk

Better Broadband SCC’s Cabinet has decided to take Better Broadband for Suffolk to the next stage, increasing the level of money invested by Suffolk County Council by another £1.3 million , and delegating the contract agreement.

Scampaign – Lottery Scams   Suffolk Trading Standards are warning us about lottery scams, which often claim people have won a significant amount of money on an overseas or online lottery and ask for personal information including bank account details.  Please could councillors make people aware that they should protect themselves against lottery fraud in the following ways:

Protecting yourself against lottery fraud:

  • Be realistic: if you haven’t entered a lottery then you can’t have won it
  • Never respond to any communication –  as above, if  you haven’t entered a lottery then, really and truly  you can’t have won it
  • If they’ve provided an email address to respond to, be particularly suspicious of addresses such as @hotmail.com or @yahoo.com or numbers beginning with 07, because these are free to get hold of
  • Any request for a fee payment is a good indication that someone is trying to defraud you – there are no official lottery operators who ask for fees to collect winnings!
  • Never, ever disclose your bank details or pay fees in advance
  • Genuine lotteries thrive on publicity. If they ask you to keep your win a secret it’s likely to be a fraud
  • Many fraudulent lotteries have bad spelling and grammar – see this as a warning that fraudsters are at work

What to do if you are a victim of lottery fraud:

  • Report to Action Fraud specialists by calling 0300 123 2040
  • If you have responded to the email/letter/call, break off all contact with the fraudsters at once
  • If you have given over your bank account details, alert your bank immediately
  • Be aware that you’re now likely to be a target for other frauds. Fraudsters often share details about people they have successfully targeted or approached, using different identities to commit further frauds

My next County Councillor’s Surgery This will be in Woodbridge Library on Saturday, 20th October 10-12 noon as ever. All welcome!