Tag Archives: disabled

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!

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!

Disabled and Elderly Bus Passes – the issue that won’t go away

Once again Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet has been forced to re-examine at their decision to provide only the statutory minimum  of free travel  for the elderly and disabled (09.30-23.00 weekdays, all day weekends and bank holidays), after  I ‘called in’ their decision to Scrutiny on behalf of  Suffolk’s Liberal Democrat Group last Thursday.
An element of deja vu here – I  originally raised the issue back in July 2011, when I persuaded the entire Council to put aside party political differences and ask  Cabinet to reconsider, and provide 24/7 travel for those eligible due to disability and allow those elderly pass holders to travel from 09.00. It took Cabinet an entire year to get around to looking at this decision  – only then to justify their combination of delay and cheeseparing public transport funding by saying  (on the one hand) that the delay was because they needed to wait and look at the decision after a year to see how it was working – and (on the other hand) t0 justify the fact that SCC came in nearly a million pounds under an £8.6 m budget because a year wasn’t long enough to see how it was working.
Toto, we’ve left Kansas for Topsy Turveyland!

I (as proposer) and Cllr David Wood (as seconder) presented the case that Cabinet’s decision had failed to take account of a number of extraordinarily 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.

The impact that Cabinet’s decision has had on the lives of many (generally disabled) groups  could be seen by the number of public speakers (especially those from a range of disability groups) at the meeting and the written submissions (from other groups) that arrived on my inbox the week before the meeting,  which highlighted Suffolk’s lack of consultation.  Cabinet looked only 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.

(In passing, I need to point out that Cllr MaGregor, the Cabinet member for Transport repeatedly said he had consulted with Colin Noble, the Cabinet member for Adult Services who assured him that these cuts had no impact. I suggest both of my colleagues might like to look again at the lengthy submission the Suffolk Consortium of UserLed Organisations and Individual Disabled People made  to Cabinet, as well as considering  Appendix 2 below – possibly in terms of Psalm 58: 4-5 )

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

Watch this space

 

Appendix 1: My argument in full

We called in this Cabinet decision in because we think it’s a mistaken decision, one based on insufficient evidence, and most profoundly, a wrong decision.

We called it in on the grounds of proportionality:  the action is not proportionate to the outcome. Suffolk needs to save money – but not the amount of money that this action saved. Last year allocation for Concessionary fares was £8.6 m, we spent £7.8m  The additional cost of these enhancements in the council’s worst proposed case, would still leave us comfortably in the black.

We called it in on the grounds of due consultation. In reconsidering the scheme the Council didn’t consult the groups affected. There was a submission from the Consortium of UserLed Organisations, only because they specifically asked to contribute. No other groups were given the chance to comment on the impact, although the impact has been on many different groups.

We called it in on the grounds of respect for human rights. Original changes to the scheme did impact negatively on elderly and disabled people in terms of travel, ability to work, association with others, and access to health and education. Maintaining this decision continues that impact.

We called it in on grounds of a presumption in favour of openness. The lack of consultation with relevant user groups was not only because the Council had elected not to consult them, it was also because it elected not to alert them to the need for consultation.

Finally, we called it in because the decision was made with insufficient evidence as to the costs of scheme enhancements – particularly with regard to other authorities with more than a year’s experience of running these. This additional information could – and should  – have informed Cabinet’s decision

What does the council say in response?

As regards proportionality? it says the issue ‘should be seen in the context of the inherent uncertainty in predicting outturn costs based on only one year of operation.’

Yet uncertainty is a two-way ticket. Surely ‘Inherent uncertainty  should recognise the cost of these enhancements might be balanced by consequent benefits. And in the very worst case scenario – proposed  without supporting evidence – which said that elderly people will convert their passes  to disabled passes en masse –all proposed enhancements could be added and still be £100,000 within budget.

As to both due consultation and a presumption in favour of openness, the council admits that a significant number of people would benefit by enhancements to current  entitlement, but says that ‘expenditure on public transport’ is seen as ‘one of the higher priorities to reduce budgets’ and so ‘further consultation on the specific issue would not have materially helped cabinet in balancing the issues’. We are told here that this decision has been made on the basis that the very notion of enhancements  – even if they come within budget – will not be considered because without them, Suffolk can bank still more money.

This says nothing for the issue of consultation. Worse, what does it say for a presumption of openness?

As to respect for human rights, we are told that the initial decision was covered by a equality impact screening concluding that an EIA was not required. Yet this screening wasn’t specific to concessionary pass enhancements, but for the Councils annual budget –  how could the interests of concessionary pass holders be fairly considered here? A further EIA screening for Cabinet’s July decision considered the needs of Blind and Partially Sighted people only.

The report also says that overcrowding on buses is limited by a legal limit on seated/standing persons. It is. But this legal limit is based on the needs of an average cross-section of the population  –  on the first bus after 9.30 this is no longer the case. Buses can only provide for a certain number of wheelchairs. People with mobility problems may find it hard to stand.

The council’s suggestion that breaching a 9.30 threshold will cause problems for those in work and education (though why these people should not also be disabled or elderly, I do not know) remains incomprehensible. Both workers and students need to be at their desks by 9.00.

Finally, we have the issue of cost. The council says the company that estimated the costs they are not relying on is a more reliable source than direct evidence from the counties operating enhanced schemes. This argument seems  – frankly –ludicrous.

For these reasons I am calling on Scrutiny to reassess Cabinet’s decision.

Appendix 2 : Some of the written submissions of impact I received in the week leading up to the scrutiny

1)   I would particularly like to bring to your attention children with bus passes.  I have a relative with special needs who has a bus pass but is unable to use it to get to his special school.  He is unable to walk the distance to school so goes with his mum on the bus every day, she has to pay for him on the journey to school, although she is able to use the pass for the journey home in the afternoon.

Also, disabled people who are able to work are often on low salaries and really should be able to use their pass to get to work.

I myself have an elderly persons bus pass and am quite happy with the present arrangements and If I need to use the pass before 9.30am don’t mind paying.  Perhaps if the council won’t agree to this they could consider anyone with a pass travelling for half price before 9.30am. But I really feel the disabled should be able to use their passes at any time.

 

2)  …I struggle with this argument [that there is no evidence that the restrictions on concessionary fares has had any impact on people with disabilities] and ask whether employees of the council who are disabled are now in a position where the employer supports them starting later with no effect on their wages or salary? Certainly with the drive nationally for more disabled people to get into work and the reductions in disability benefits, public transport plays a very significant role.

I consider myself to be lucky enough to still drive to work. As a person with secondary progressive MS diagnosed more that 20 years ago, myself and fellow MS workers make up only 4% of the MS community who work. Many more want to but cannot drive, live in the non suburban areas ofSuffolkand would rely on assisted public transport if it was available, but it appears ‘there is no evidence that it is needed’. I say come and listen to organisations such as the MS Society inSuffolk. There are more than 1000 of us inSuffolkalone. Members in my area of responsibility –East Anglia  (Norfolk,Suffolk, Cambridgeshire andPeterborough) are very clear as to the barriers to their participation as employees, volunteers or people who participate in the community, it is access to transport and access to transport that recognises their contribution to society is not between the hours of 9.30am and usually 3pm.

Please please continue to support the needs of disabled people inSuffolk. They want to work and they want to volunteer, the bus pass pre 9.30 am makes a huge difference.      East AngliaRepresentative –EnglandNational Council MS SocietyUK

 

3) I’m partially sighted so receive a life to the bus stop and then catch the 07:00 bus intoI pswich. Like many disabled people I have no choice but to catch the bus when it is quieter and less crowded; come 09:30 the buses are overcrowded and whilst it is extremely difficult for me, it would be impossible for anyone in a wheelchair to find sufficient space.

I also work with autistic people desperately seeking employment, their condition means they are simply unable to travel later in the day when there’s so much more noise and environmental challenges. I have a survey live at the moment collecting information withinSuffolkfrom people with autism and their cares, travel is second only to education in things they worry most about.

Therefore disabled people, the most vulnerable in society, have little choice but to pay the full bus fare. We don’t really have a voice anymore, are vilified as “scroungers” and are a soft target for cuts. As you’ll be aware many disabled people are on low incomes and the least able to afford what can be quite an expense. I also wonder what that says about us as a society inSuffolk?

 

4)  I have a disabled bus pass and work for Babergh District Council but I am unable to use it to get to work as buses will not accept it until after 9.30 am. This rule is penalising the disabled. Everyone who has a bus pass is not elderly and the current rules make it difficult for those who can work doing so.

 

5) Re-examination of the cabinet decision: 

(b) due consultation and the taking of professional advice from officers: Within our own current consultation with people with autism and their carers, over 30% have identified issues with public transport causing significant difficulties (30 out of 100 responses received so far). There are approximately 6000 people inSuffolksuffering from autism and significantly greater numbers of carers. Issues cover anything from inability to travel before 09:30 because of cost to frequency of buses. SCC publicly proclaims it puts service users at the heart of all decisions (“Big Society”) and hence are key stakeholders in all services that affect individual lives i.e. personalisation.

Therefore why weren’t Suffolk family Carers, Suffolk Autism, Papworth Trust, the Shaw Trust, allSuffolkcommunity and voluntary groups consulted? It is standard practice within SCC to engage all stakeholders before reshaping services i.e. co-production. Why wasn’t this done?

(c) respect for human rights (have these been considered?); There is evidenced negative impact on people with autism in unpaid volunteering roles or those on very low wages who suffer significant financial harm – because of their condition, they have to travel when buses are not crowded and hence now have to pay. Their work patterns (and regimental nature of their condition) prohibit waiting until 09:30 for “free transport” as does the overcrowding. How canSuffolkcounty council initiate and encourage employers to recruit more disabled people when the council is penalising service users themselves?

SCC contributes significant funding to employment providers to identify employment opportunities for disabled people. For disabled groups they frequently have to undertake unpaid work “tasters” – again service users are penalised and it results in less effective SCC spend.

There are also significant risks to those partially sighted and blind when travelling on overcrowded buses after 09:30: trying to negotiate round other passengers is horrendous.

It can be argued the fact that disabled people and their representative organisations (and family carers) are denied any opportunity to express views amounts to direct discrimination under the Equalities Act 2010 given they are unfairly denied equal access to services on the grounds of disability i.e. people partially sighted/blind, those with autism, those confined to a wheelchair, requiring carers or with learning difficulties or mental health issues simply cannot travel (especially in rural areas) when travelling during busy times (as evidenced via public consultation via the autism surveys and shortly to be repeated for LD).

It will directly impact on the human rights of a person with autism, learning difficulties and suffering from mental health issues (complete lack of confidence, speech difficulties etc.) that they often have to suffer extreme embarrassment and ridicule at busy times simply because they cannot afford to travel when environmental factors are reduced (i.e. quieter before 09:30); there is countless evidence to support the extreme ordeal that these groups of vulnerable people have to suffer (I personally fallen on the Beeston’s 91 service because I couldn’t negotiate my way to a free seat – witnessed by the driver and many other passengers). Are we satisfied as a statutory body to increase public humiliation?

(d) a presumption in favour of openness;  SCC directorates have built robust and trusted community networks and consult extensively on all proposals and any changes to service delivery. It would be an extremely easy process to replicate this for disabled people being denied free travel before 09:30. Why was there no consultation? People with autism have voted for the opportunity to comment further on public transport and the issue of concessionary bus fares will not do away.

STILL waiting for the bus..

Sometimes its really difficult to admit you have made a mistake, but this is what Suffolk County Council needs to do.

The Conservative majority must face reality and reverse their decision to downgrade the Suffolk Concessionary Fares passes for the elderly and disabled. They need to return this service to the level it was at two years ago before SCC took over the running of this scheme. WHen they took it over, SCC’s Tory leadership justified their position by saying they provided these travel passes at a little more than the ‘statutory UK minimum’. A good excuse but a bad decision. Problems of transport are notoriously more difficult and disabling for those of us who live in rural areas like Suffolk, and most other rural county councils make adjustments accordingly.

It was a whole year back that I proposed SCC’s Full Council that all time restrictions be lifted for disabled pass holders and reduced for those eligible due to age (so that their travel can start at 9 o’clock). This proposal was so sensible and neecessary that it had cross-party support and was voted in by councillors of all parties. (O, and the Cabinet too ). Yet, after a hugely disrespectful delay of a year – presumably to let the fuss die down a bit – Cabinet has turned its back on the disabled and the elderly once again.

What a surprise! Making these changes would cost the Council a whole £489,448 a year (that’s just over a penny a week from every Suffolk resident). This is happening in the year that Cabinet saved only a paltry £13m from this years pared-to-the-bone budget, to stash with the other £140m they hold in reserves.

This cannot be the end of the matter.

Any councillor is entitled to dispute (‘call-in’) this unfair decision – and this is exactly what the Lib Dems have done. Sadly, as the Cabinet member is on leave to the end of July it cannot now be looked at by the all-party Scrutiny committee until the 27 September. This is nearly 18 months after the restrictions first came into force.

Its a long time to keep on putting the pressure on – but its a vey worthy cause. The changes to Suffolk’s concessionary passes have affected 140,000 local people, 7000 of whom are disabled and are causing genuine hardship to people with few if any alternatives. It limits their access to work, health, education, training and social activities.

The Cabinet were fully aware that such a change would cost between £251,000 and £489,448 pa, a small proportion of the £13.1m that the County Council has underspent and entrusted to banks  in this financial year alone. Their decision is frankly unbelievable.

At a time of cuts I would hate to say an expenditure under £500,000 is “peanuts”. But it compares very favourably with other SCC spending decisions such as Suffolk Circle .

Reversing these changes will allow full, affordable participation in society to two valuable and poorly recognised groups of people: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements – and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home. Its all a matter of priorities. Do the people of Suffolk really want the Council to hoard more and more of our money in an unstable banking system – instead of investing in the people of today for the benefit of tomorrow?