Tag Archives: cuts

Suffolk’s public transport: going the extra mile

Workers at Suffolk County Council can now use an online Travel Portal as a central point of information for all  travel.  Very laudable.

To aid you in your travel choices,  it has a  Step-by-step decision-maker (which doesn’t work) plus  a list of Alternative Travel Options to firm up your mind as to how you are to travel.

And this is where we part company as to its use and intentions.  For it has to be said, this  list of Alternative Travel Options (although intended to be informative) suggests there is no real alternative to the car.

In particular, Alternative Travel Options fails to mention the cheap and efficient bicycle as any form of travel alternative. Yet I personally cycled 2,500 miles on council business last year.

I’d like to point out here  that far fron being a lycra-clad fitness freak,  I am (sadly) 53,  fat, with a bad knee, a need to arrive appropriately dressed, have many care commitments and live more  than 8 road miles out of Ipswich. In short, if  someone like me can cycle 2500 work miles a year there must be many many other SCC employees who could also be encouraged to do the same.

In the absence of the bicycle,  SCC’s  Alternative Travel Options list provides the following six options for their workers to consider:

  1. Fleet vehicle (car, van or specialist vehicle)
  2. Lease Car –
  3. Hire car
  4. Team pool cars
  5. Public transport
  6. Reimburse  vehicle mileage

Notice anything? Out of these six , five refer specifically to car usage .

Each option comes with ‘issues to consider’ – issues which are broadly financial.   However, not in the case of Public Transport.  Here the issues to consider are (in full):

  • Not always an option due to time constraints/ availability/access.
  • May be more expensive for some journeys.
  • Requires planning ahead.
  • Some personal safety considerations (location/time of travel).

Let’s not big it up too much eh? Leaving aside the ‘May be more expensive for some journeys’, (which  is not mentioned in any of the car driving options), surely it is deeply unreasonable to list “personal safety considerations” as a reason to  for the Greenest County to discourage its own employees  from travelling  by bus/train?    There are many many more deaths/injuries in transit amongst car drivers and passengers than among those using public transport.  I am therefore pressing SCC to list “personal safety considerations” as a risk  with all the car-driving options .

Additionally, the mention of public transport is glossed as “Journeys to meetings, conferences etc where train travel between mainline stations is available. Business journeys within more urban locations.”  Yet shouldn’t we be encouraging all employees to travel sustainably within Suffolk at all times?   So why not advocate public transport more strongly?

The difficulty is laid out fairly and clearly: public transport is “Not always an option due to time constraints/ availability/access”.   Right.  Yet public transport difficulties have become  major problems for the people of Suffolk because of the lack of support SCC has given to public transport .  Our legislators  and administrators  like to talk the talk, but instead of walking the walk  – or cycling the bike, or taking the bus  – too many are wedded to driving the car.

Which has led inexorably to the County Council’s cut of the Bury Park and Ride site and its continuing barefaced  insistence that Demand Responsive Transport (7am – 7pm weekdays only)  adequately replaces subsidised bus services (yes, those which also operated during evenings/Sundays/Bank holidays). These two decisions alone  have  added greatly to the problem of ‘time constraints/ availability/access” in public transport – sadly there are others.

Is it entirely reasonable that SCC should be diverting away its own employees from the transport difficulties it  has inflicted on others who do not have the chance to claim back transport expenses?

 

End Note

I wrote to the  SCC Travel Portal on 2 June giving feedback on ther portal pretty much in terms of the above. I was delighted to receive an email two weeks later telling me that as a direct reponse to my comments, the portal had been entirely redesigned ” in accordance with the sustainable travel hierarchy“. 

The officer who redesigned it has done a wonderful job. The portal  is  now both more helpful and useful, and is much MUCH more encouraging towards sustainable forms of transport. Congratulations!

A petition that won’t lie down: democracy and post-16 travel cards

Last week Suffolk’s  ‘Save the  eXplore Card’ petition earned the right to be discussed at full Council – having received over 6,000 signatures.   (To remind you: this  young person’s travel card, a brainchild of SCC’s last Lib-Lab Coalition, has been cut halfway through this academic year without any form of consultation or risk assessment by Suffolk County Council.)

Unfortunately, it turned out that SCC – having set up their e-petition site as a legal requirement – had not thought at all about what should happen after an e-petition had reached 3675 signatures  and was discussed at full council – as is required by the SCC constitution .

From the first there was great confusion.

The originator (Patrick Gillard)  found that his petition had not been acknowledged:  it still registers as ‘failed to achieve the requisite number of signatures’ on the epetition site.  SCC had not invited him to speak as he asked (and was his constitutional right). When he insisted on speaking, another speaker (Greer Hill, Otley College) was un-invited by SCC. After pressure from myself and Kathy Pollard, both speakers were finally allowed their 5 minutes  – but this left only 10 minutes for discussion.  SCC offered no explanation for this.  This was a grave discourtesy to the speakers and to all those thousands of petitioners  they represented.

Although this  petition was heard in the middle of GCSE, A.A/S and college exams, it was handed to Transport Portfolioholder Guy McGregor by a very large group of  Just 42 youth club members, other young people,  MYPs, councillors, and representatives of schools and colleges. These were eager to  explain their anxieties. Cllr McGregor’s  response was his old traditional theme “you can only spend a pound once.” He did not explain why he had failed to consult on this cut or explored alternative options. No explanation of this has ever been forthcoming!

At this point it turned out that two teenage members of Woodbridge’s Just 42  youth club , who had scheduled a public question, had not had this question acknowledged at all by SCC. I had to  go to great pains to get their  right to speak agreed  and it was only very few minutes before the debate that it was confirmed. This was another grave discourtesy – in this case,  to the youngest public questioners ever to address the council!

During the meeting, SCC’s new Leader Mark Bee spoke about a new era based on the principles of  Listening; Openness/ transparency; and Practical, common sense solutions to problems.  Although he mentioned other cuts,  he never directly mentioned the Explore card. The resounding silence of SCC’s administration re this cut and the lack of any consultation is one of the great mysteries of this year.

After the petitioners had spoken, Councillors from all parties had the opportunity to speak briefly before  the portfolio holder replied.  (my speech below). Cllr McGregor did not repoond to these concerns raised but merely re- asserted that  the cut was necessary.

At this point it became clear that no-one had any idea as to what was to happen nextClearly ending the process undemocratically, without a vote,  by means of a response from the very person who had organised, agreed and implemented the cut made the whole epetition process completely futile. After a heated exchange in the chamber, a  short recess was announced. During this  Mark Bee and Guy McGregor spoke directly to the young people from Just 42 and  promised that the problems of their particular cut would go  before scrutiny. This was however, outside the chamber, and remains unminuted.

The strength of the young people’s clear, polite and determined  objections made it clear to the administration at this point – if not before – quite how much people care about  this cut . These young people were not coming here to observe democracy: they were coming to take part!

Three  things are clear –

  • the Explore card may be dead but it ain’t lying down;
  • SCC MUST tell the petitioners officially  now, exactly what is to happen next
    – and finally;
  • SCC’s procedure for dealing with e-petitions MUST be defined before the next council meeting in order to prevent this a repeat of Thursday’s shambles and to ensure these petitions to perform the constitutional function for which they were created.

My speech on the Explore card 26 May 2011

We’ve heard first hand – from the thousands of responses to the petition, from those  addressed us – most of all from individual young people in our divisions – that this cut was a bad idea – a short term fix  that didn’t consider the future.

There was no impact assessment for this cut –made  halfway through the educational year. Instead SCC boxticker noted  blandly that

There may be an adverse impact to the 15-19 age group – but there was  no need for an impact assessment  as it is a discretionary activity and has been identified as a budget saving proposal

In other words – it will have an impact but we don’t care!

Rather like saying I’ll  pay my council tax because I have to  but  I won’t pay into a pension because I’m feeling poor. The explore card expenditure is not just money paid out – it is money invested in the future  it  IS our pension plan – The young people of Suffolk – future builders, magistrates, nurses, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, firemen, soldiers, carers, taxpayers – are our future and we will be relying on them in the years to come. It is in our interests to support them now so we can get the best out of them when we need them later on.

The administration tell us that we can’t afford it and that home-to-school transport cuts are  ameliorated by help with post-16 discretionary passes, and tempering the Catholic transport decision.

This is a red herring.

The Explore card is the most important home-to-school pass we had because it was such excellent value for money – giving halfprice travel at all times to all places to all young people at a total cost to the council of less than £30 a year for each of its 55,000 users!

Where a discretionary pass  gives one school day, school hour  journey each way at the cost of £150 a term to the parent and a lot more to the council, the explore card  was much more flexible- used by those studying in the evening or  multi-site, by those  wanting to attend a distant college because the local school didn’t run the course,, those on training courses outside the scope of Suffolk’s transport policy, starting a first time job or going to job interviews to find one. Those who want to go out safely in the evening, without worry about road conditions and ability to drive. Those who we don’t want to hang about the bus stop because they can’t afford to get on a bus. All  this for £30 a head.

Colleagues, we can afford this investment in our future. I won’t remind you of some of the recent headlines on SCC expenditure  but  we all know that it is not as simple as “can’t pay wont pay” . Even in a time of cuts there’s a large element of what we choose to pay for. Suffolk is poor but resilient – we’ve enough in the reserves to pay to reverse  this decision and continue investing this  £30 a head in the future of these young people and our county.

Post-16 Explore card back in front of council – 26 May

Good  news:  we have got Suffolk County Council to accept the Save the Explore Card petition and agree to debate the Explore card cut again at their annual meeting starting at 2pm on 26 May at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

THIS IS A PUBLIC MEETING. Any member of the public can attend. This means YOU.

This news doesn’t mean the card has been saved but it does give us another chance to tell the council how badly this cut is affecting so many young people in Suffolk.  

When people stand up and make a fuss there is a much better chance of them listening.
If they listen, there is a chance they may vote to restore the card.

Shortly before the meeting,  the petition will be presented officially to the Suffolk County Cabinet members responsible.

• Can YOU be there too? The more people who are there in person, the more it will show what the impact has been

In the meantime, can you please email statements, saying simply how the cut is affecting you and your family. Basically it is harder for councillors to ignore a statement saying “I cannot do … (whatever) …. because of you cutting the Explore card.”  

If you give the name of the town you live in, we can pass on your comment to your own councillor, before they vote!”

There is a facebook link to this event:

‘Explore Card’ petition reaches vital target

We’ve DONE it – we’re over the first hurdle and can challenge the Explore card cut!

Thanks to the hard work of huge numbers of people, our Explore card petition click here has achieved its first goal, with nearly 4,000 signatures and rising. Do keep on signing.   The online petition finishes 1 May! Support has included a recent article in the Evening Star , a poster campaign by members of Woodbridge’s Just 42 OTS club, and a last minute surge of paper signatures from Bungay, led by a superbly public spirited Bungay High School student, Hannah Alred.

In addition, I have just heard that FE students at Otley College, University College Suffolk and West Suffolk College have collected over two thousand further signatures, which the council are happy to include. This means the Save the Explore Card petition has six thousand signatories and rising!

Under its constitution, the council CAN respond to a petition by taking the action requested in the petition – in other words,deciding to retain the card . This would be wonderful because it would cause minimum damage. The Explore card became invalid only four weeks ago – on 1 April – and already we are hearing stories of the hardship caused to young people by cutting it halfway through a school/college year.

However, the County Council may require more persuasion.

If a petition contains more than 3675 signatures it can be debated by the full council, if the petitioner requests it.  This means that it gets discussed and voted on  at a council meeting at which all county councillors attend. The council “will endeavour to consider the petition at its next meeting, although on some occasions this may not be possible and consideration will then take place at the following meeting.

This weekend, the petitioner, Patrick Gillard, will be writing to the Council to ask it to change its mind and restore the Explore card. If – for any reason – the Council cannot immediately take this action, he will ask for a time to deliver the petition in person and request that the immediate restoration of the Explore card should be debated at next full council – May 26.

What YOU can do:

  • Please keep signing. The e-petition is now closed but  I can send you a printable version .
  •  Please keep telling people that they can sign and that we are past the first target. It is important for everyone to realise that people can have an effect on decision-making. The county council is funded by the people of Suffolk for the people of Suffolk. Everyone has a stake in it and should make their voice heard!
  • In addition, please keep on emailing me (or posting on my blog) with your individual stories of how the loss of the card affects you personally. It would be useful to know what town/postcode you are in so that individual county councillors can see how it is affecting the people they represent!

The petition in full:   I am petitioning to overturn SCCs proposal to abolish the young person’s eXplore Card. Up till now young people have had this card to help with travel costs to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising. Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and on many off-peak rail journeys. Additionally, the SCC post-16 transport policy relies on the fact that all post-16 students can have an Explore card to help with fares – and a very good thing too!. The proposed abolition of the card would mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. It will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads. It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis. It also makes a mockery of our ‘Greenest county’ aspirations. Please sign this petition to keep SCC’s eXplore card.

SAVE the EXPLORE CARD!

I am petitioning to overturn SCCs proposal to abolish the young person’s eXplore Card. Up till now young people have had this card to help with travel costs to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising. Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and on many off-peak rail journeys. Additionally, the SCC post-16 transport policy relies on the fact that all post-16 students can have an Explore card to help with fares – and a very good thing too!. The proposed abolition of the card would mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. It will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads. It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis. It also makes a mockery of our ‘Greenest county’ aspirations. Please sign this petition to keep SCC’s eXplore card.

Demand Responsive Transport – the ‘Limousine’ that lets us down!

Today I’m venting huge rage on behalf of myself and every other person who is finding it hard to get  emergency healthcare or go  hospital visiting for six of the next  eleven days.

This is because of  the recent cuts imposed to scheduled bus services by the Suffolk County Council’s discredited New Strategic Direction. (One of several  ‘difficult decisions’ endorsed  by all Conservative Suffolk County Councillors, whether front- or back-bench  at full council. Cynically, one wonders whether, never personally having had to rely on such services, they voted in the happy confidence that  they would never personally suffer from the impact ).

Thank you Cllr McGregor – the man behind these cuts.

Thank you, Suffolk’s Conservative county councillors  for voting them through without a murmur.

What does this imply:

Clearly only patients who know car drivers deserve to be visited!

Clearly only people who are car drivers  deserve to access emergency care at the Ipswich Riverside clinic.

And very clearly you’re expecting only people who are car drivers  to vote for you and your party!

Cllr McGregor has told us that his ‘demand responsive’  (DRT) alternative to scheduled buses is the ‘limousine  of services’ and a fitting and adequate replacement for the  scheduled services he’s cut.

Not on a bank holiday it isn’t. On a bank-holiday, as on a Sunday, or any evening, it is a non-existent service. This is because it is  impossible to get volunteers – even paid volunteers like those who operate the CATS service – to work on Sundays and evenings and Bank Holidays.

Good news for all the other services Suffolk County Council plans to divest to volunteers.

I hope that everybody who has been involved in this shoddy piece of  decision-making will be forced some time to experience for themselves  the difficulties that I and my daughter have been in today.  That is, the experience of being  an emergency hospital in-patient or relative with no option but to travel on foot or cycle or public transport.

And for that public transport to have been cut on an ideological whim without thought for the poor, the sick and the vulnerable.

Let them experience first hand one of their so-called  ‘difficult choices’ ! Maybe with personal experience of the trouble and harm they have caused to others,  they might then consider abandoning their discredited ideology the NSD,  that has turned its back on other  – less damaging ways – to make the required  savings.