Tag Archives: Explore card

Save not spend: Suffolk’s Tories vote in 2015-6 budget by narrow majority

Today Suffolk County Council  was  discussing the County Council Budget 2015-16 – always an occasion of much grandstanding and  some polite(ish) mudslinging.

I am always flummoxed at how Suffolk Conservatives accuse  opposition parties wanting to spend money of ‘lacking ambition,‘  Yet clearly the height of Conservative ambition (as articulated in these selfsame meetings) is to put their money under the mattress  and hope for the best.  Astonishing.

Apart from anything else, as my colleague, Lib Dem Deputy Leader  John Field reminded them,  “You save for a rainy day – not for a rainy decade!”

Then of course there is the exhibition that Cllr Colin Noble makes every year, bellowing “11.9%!” and “18%!“. He never once forgets to accuse Labour of having once raised something by such amounts. He never once  mentions whether it was value for money. Oddly enough, although he grandstands frequently  about ‘big black holes‘  into which money has fallen, Cllr Noble never ever once remembers to mention the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds of hardworking Suffolk taxpayers’ money he  wasted on Suffolk Circle via a decision made in camera. Strange but true.

So I reminded him – and now I’m reminding you too. (You can brush up on all the details if you read my blog post The Short Life of Suffolk Circle and what it Cost Us Suffolk Taxpayers).

Some of those hundreds of thousands of wasted pounds would have come in very handy this year, Cllt Noble.  Conservative budget proposals included savings (a polite word for cuts) of £38.2 m, leading to a budget requirement of £454,981,413. Reserves are forecast as reaching £165million by the end of March. A long Labour amendment detailed reinstatement of £12m of the cuts. The Liberal Democrats did not agree with all of these reinstatements – but we agreed with £8.5million of them and so we supported the Labour amendment.

I spoke passionately  with special reference to supporting educational transport for  disadvantaged  post-16 year olds. We don’t need to take money out. Affordable transport to education is crucial. A recent Commons report tells us that 30% of young people NEET (not in education employment or training) would have been in post-16 education if they had money to cover the transport;40% of young people in the kind of work with no training element ditto. And of course the economic impact to these young people extends far beyond the economic year.

I reminded the Cabinet Spokesman for Transport, Cllr Newman,  how hard I had fought for the a restoration of the Youth travel card, and how, though successful, the new Endeavour card was just a “pale and washy simulacrum” of the Explore card it replaced: operator take-up isn’t universal, it doesn’t cover train transport and the actual discount is much less.

I said I knew Cllr Newman would tell me that bursaries would cover the deficit.  But the same Commons report tells us how inequitably these bursaries are disbursed, especially in rural areas.

“Unless we provide young people from disadvantaged families with the proper support to travel to study or training, we are not supporting them, we are not widening participation, we are not extending them the helping hand they need to alter long-term outcomes. And more, we are creating a postcode lottery in which the rural young people are particularly disadvantaged,” I said. “I urge my colleagues opposite to think again. You are putting your money into reserves? Invest instead in these young people, and save the spend in budgets of the future.”

The debate continued until nearly 6pm, but the Labour amendment was lost 38-30, and the Tories managed to vote their original budget in, 37-31.

Close – but no cigar.

 

 

Votes at 16: true democracy

Last week Parliament made history by supporting the LibDem motion to give 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote .  At last. This is something we Lib Dems have been proposing since the last Millennium.

I can’t see why anyone finds this the slightest bit controversial. Surely if you are old enough to marry, join the army and to pay tax, you are old enough to vote on who can marry, when we fight and how much tax we pay?

Those  who argue that many young people ‘don’t know enough’ to vote, need only look around at their own peers.  No-one is making the case that people are ever too old to vote.

I’m certain that lowering the voting age would change politics for the better. If politicians have to appeal directly to 16 year olds as well as 46 and 66 year olds it will broaden their priorities.

Would the Suffolk Conservatives have scrapped the Explore young person’s travel card  two years ago  if the  cut impacted as fully on the ballot box as it did on young people’s lives?

I suspect not!

Suffolk Young Person’s Travel Card: “I’ll be back!”

The Suffolk Explore card, cut by the Conservatives  in haste, and apparently now repented at leisure

Wow!

Today Suffolk County Council bite the bullet and announce that they’re planning a new discount travel card for young people in Suffolk  “in a bid to remove transport barriers for young people across the county” as the Cabinet Member for Transport so disingenuously puts it.

Yes that’s right. Although the press release doesn’t mention it this is the very same Cabinet member who abolished the Explore young persons discount travel card  in April 2011 halfway through the academic year. By doing this he knowingly placed huge – in some cases insurmountable – transport barriers  between  opportunities for employment and education and  a whole cohort of Suffolk’s young people.

Once again we are back in TopsyTurveyland.

When the Explore card was cut in 2011 (as part of the New Strategic Direction ideology and supposedly on grounds of ‘cost), the Liberal Democrats warned that it was a terrible thing to do in a rural county at a time of economic instability and would cause significant damage to the educational, work and training prospects of the 55000 young people who used it.  And it did.

And the Conservatives heard full details directly from Suffolk Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from thousands of the young people affected .We all told them  that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job –with huge longterm implications for Suffolk’s budget.  But the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport memorably replied, “you can’t spend a pound more than once.’

In that year SCC underspent by £13m of our pounds – enough to fund the Explore card many many times over . 

As academic standards in Suffolk have slipped and more and more young people became NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) it seems that the point has finally got across.  Thank goodness the Conservatives are now prepared to make a U-turn before they cause any further damage, even if they can’t bring themselves to admit that this is what they are doing.

Bringing back this card is obviously a successful outcome for the Suffolk Liberal Democrats ‘ work, and, more importantly, for all the young people and their families who have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn. Yet we are left looking at the damage caused in the last two years and wondering why it has it taken so long for the Conservatives to admit it.  Why on earth didn’t they review the Explore card costs rather than cutting it completely- as they did – and leaving many young people struggling to get to college and employment?

Let’s be frank: young people’s travel is an issue that should have been extremely important throughout the years, and not just when the Conservatives are looking at the May elections!  The cynical opportunism of the entire exercise is breathtaking!!

Explore - kidsand banners (532x800)

SCC: where does their “Interest” lie?

 At their last Cabinet meeting SCC’s Tories revealed that they had underspent a total of £13.1m in the last financial year. Much of this money is going into the already large reserves (now standing at £158m).

Yes, you heard me right.

At a time of huge financial stress when we need to make best use of every penny, they quite unnecessarily took more than £13m from our hard-pressed services and entrusted it to the banks

They must be the last people left in the country who have any faith left in bankers.

And they put their trust in the banking system at a time when public money is desperately needed to support the local economy. When the community is reeling under the impact of lost public services .

The Conservative administration has told us they’ve cut these services because they were unaffordable. This is how they have justified the huge damage that they have inflicted on Suffolk’s public transport – by tellling us that  “you can’t spend a pound more than once,”(as the Cabinet member responsible has told us rather more than once).

Now it seems clear that the Cabinet just doesn’t want to spend some of these (our) pounds at all.

We live in a time where belt-tightening may be unavoidable, but it is clear that the Conservatives’ cutting has been overly-enthusiastic.  The money they have put into low-interest reserves could better be spent on restoring such valued and socially valuable services as the eXplore youth travel Card, our closed Household Waste Recycling Centres, the Bury Road Park and Ride, many axed bus routes, and those essential and valued walk-in Youth clubs (so useful for those who cannot afford subscription activities) as well as improving the bus pass conditions for Suffolk elderly and disabled.

These were all services that my colleagues and I argued to reinstate at Budget time, but it fell on deaf ears.  More than deaf ears – as I recall, the Leader suggested our budget had been ‘scribbled on the back of a fag packet.’

Better than on the front of a paying-in slip, Cllr Bee!

Suffolk County’s Conservatives would much rather invest our money in banks than in the people of Suffolk – preferring to build up capital than to build social capital.

 

“Attention – this policy is reversing!” U-turn on young people’s travel

Hurrah – direct action and real democracy has finally paid off.

Yesterday – fifteen months after their short-sighted,  mean-minded and pennypinching  abolition of Suffolk’s Explore young person’s travelcard (halfway through the academic year, let me remind you!) –  the Conservatives on Suffolk County Council have announced a U-turn.   SCC will now be developing  an Oyster-type card “to help provide reduced travel costs for education, training and work-related travel” for young people, because – as Leader Mark Bee acknowledged -travel is such a problem for young people in our rural county.

As my son would say, no shit, Sherlock!

What Cllr Bee says is perfectly true. But it  is  hardly news. It’s now exactly a year since the County Council received that  6,000 signature petition and the personal representations from a huge range of people (including some very vocal, determined – and polite – members of Woodbridge’s Just 42) telling them just this!

When  the Conservatives originally argued the necessity of the Explore  cut on the grounds of cost, they were too shortsighted to recognise the costly damage it would cause to the educational, work and training prospects of a whole cohort of young people.  This harm was clear to anyone who looked at the facts rather than the ideology of the New Strategic Direction.  Indeed, in the middle of last year the Conservatives heard this information directly from me and other Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from the young people affected.

We all told the Conservatives that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job.  But -as the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport so memorably said -“you can’t spend a pound more than once.”   In such  circumstances, the wise idea is to choose carefully what you do spend your pounds on in the first place. This was the same Cabinet that agreed the expenditure of really quite a lot of pounds on Suffolk Circle.

Thursday’s announcement is welcome news – but sadly it is too late for some.  And the current announcement – despite the fanfare – is currently limited to Ipswich.Yet  Scrutiny established  at the end of last year that the young people living in Ipswich remained  best supported by bus services after the Explore cut. It was those in the rural parts of Suffolk – those with large distances to travel and no access to cars or petrol -who were most badly affected.

Now that this decision has been made, I urge the council to go beyond spin on this occasion and to roll out this new Oyster-type scheme as quickly as possible. We we need to reverse, wherever possible,  the harm they have caused and are continuing to cause to the next generation of Suffolk!