Tag Archives: post-16

More transport problems for rural post-16 students

Decisions  about funding post-16 transport made by SCC’s Cabinet in 2014 are now hitting the street. These resulted in a significant tightening of SCC’s ‘discretionary’  transport offer, due to a double whammy created by conflicting governmental expectations: On the one hand young people are now expected to remain in education, training and employment until 18 – thus creating a de facto if unofficial statutory leaving age of 18. On the other hand, continuing cuts in central funding, assisted by ideological reluctance to increase taxation at either national or local level  means that SCC are trying hard to cover impossible bills. The London-based, urban-centric nature of  central government has a track-record of making  decisions without funding support, that puts rural-dwelling young people  at a very particular disadvantage. They have so much further to travel to education and so much less in the way of public transport to fall back on than their urban peers.
This is my letter in today’s EADT, 2-07-2015.

Sir,

Many people have contacted me re with concerns about SCC’s new post-16 ‘discretionary’ policy which will offer students travel to the nearest place of education only. This sounds reasonable, until you look at the plight of the rural young.

The government’s Raising the Participation Age (RPA) insists on education, training and employment until 18. However, almost all support for travel finishes at 16. And for many rural post-16 students , there may be literally no other transport to education apart from the SCC-chartered bus the discretionary pass is used on,  because the bus services have been cut.

A few years ago SCC replaced many rural bus routes with ‘demand responsive transport,’ A Rural Transport PDP working group last year found this was incompatible provision for school attendance. Remaining bus  routes often run a regular service except for the one bus at school times which has been taken off-route so as to run a school- specific service – ironically for bus-pass holders only. And if a student wants to continue their studies at their catchment school since age 11 (Farlingaye, for example) – but there is another education provider a shade closer, too bad!

Let me remind readers that a discretionary bus pass is not free. It costs the student £600 a year. But the bonkers bus deregulation laws – aimed at promoting competition -won’t allow one to pay for a seat on a school bus if one has no discretionary entitlement. It’s a deeply unhelpful scenario for those who just need transport to get from A to B!.

I have yet to establish what is the situation of the rural young person who is literally unable to attend mandatory school college or training because there is no public transport and they do not drive. Are they sanctioned?

In February’s 2015 Budget debate, I suggested affordable transport was so crucial to education that  we take money out of reserves to support educational transport for disadvantaged  post-16 year olds. My plea was ignored. The council needs to revisit this decision.

I also call again on the county council to lobby for  the extra funding to support RPA. Compare the prospects of our rural young with those in  London – an Oyster card gives free, accessible and appropriate travel for all young people. We cannot continue to lose out to the Londoncentric  travel funding policies of successive governments – who simply ignore the problems faced by rest of us . Young people in Suffolk also deserve  to achieve their potential!

And finally, it is surely time for Suffolk to lobby for the re-regulation of local bus services, so that we do not carry on  spending our council tax payers’ money patching together pieces of a fractured system that fails in a rural setting

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Explore-card not so unique – amongst councils who care

One of the points that both Guy McGregor  and Graham Newman make when the demise of the Explore card comes up, was that it was unique and this uniqueness made it too much of a luxury to be affordable any longer.  I have corrected these misleading  statements on a number of occasions – and yet its surprising how they continue to repeat them. As do many of their colleagues.  

And yet they are talking utter bunkum.

I’m assuming Cllrs McGregor and Newman have been able to cling to this fond belief by a determination to close their eyes and make  no attempt whatsoever to discover whether they are actually speaking the truth or not.

Just so they cannot in all honesty continue to do so, I append details of  just one of the numerous explore-card equivalents that can be found in more generous and forward-thinking parts of this country: the West Sussex 3-in-1 card:

Your 3in1 card

3in1 poster

Get on board!

If you’re aged 5-19 and live and study in West Sussex, you can apply for a 3in1 card, which has already given over 37,000 young people the following amazing benefits:

  • One – cheaper bus fares
    Get reduced bus fares at all times of the day or week!
  • Two – proof of age
    Citizencard proof of age to use in shops and other outlets – no more having to carry your passport or birth certificate around!
  • Three – loads of discounts
    We have teamed up with many retailers to offer fantastic discounts to 3in1 cardholders!

The national economic situation did not see off West Sussex’s young persons (3-in-1) travel card. Far from it.  It was clearly too important. Instead, the 3-in-1 card has started to do what I and others have suggested could be done with the Explore card: it instituted a £50 registration fee.  This fee  is remitted for those who might suffer from financial hardship.

Yet Cllr MacGregor has told Suffolk young people  that  there was no viable alternative to  cutting the card completely and immediately.

It is as if he didn’t really to want to look at any other option.

Boy , don’t you wish you lived in West Sussex, eh?

Explore travel card – Resurgam?

Ok, so guess what. The Explore card cut DID make an appearance at yesterday’s SCC scrutiny of NEET (young people Not In Education, Employment  or Training ).

Not, you understand,  that the Explore card was officially scheduled in, nor indeed was any witness called who was thought to know of , or wished to talk about, the Explore card.  Although Explore card  petitioners had asked  for information about this scrutiny  meeting and I had contacted the committee officer offering to provide evidence, we’d been greeted with silence.

Less than 24 hours before the meeting, petitioner Patrick Gillard  finally heard back  from Mark Bee:

The discussion between Cllr McGregor and myself with you, outside the Chambers included an explanation of the situation we are in and issues that had been experienced by students with the Post 16 discretionary scheme process for the half term only.  As part of this discussion, it was agreed that the issue with the process would be looked into and that the other issues would be forwarded to the next Scrutiny meeting.

Suffolk County Council procedures in respect of petitions says that any petitions should be presented and formally received, there is no further detail given on what should happen however it is recognised that this is an area that needs further clarity and this will be reviewed for the future.

The Scrutiny meeting on Tuesday 14th June 2011 is a public meeting which you are welcome to attend, if you would like to opportunity to speak this will need to be approved by the Chairman…. There will be an opportunity for the Committee to consider scrutiny of the impact on young people of the removal of the Explore card as part of item 5 – Young People not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) (16-24yrs) in Suffolk.

Less than 24 hours notice – yet Mr Gillard, and the young members of Woodbridge’s Just 42 broke engagements, cancelled college  and turned up. What commitment!

And just as well Patrick Gillard had managed to get last-minute permission to speak (and that I  happened to be substituting on the Scrutiny committee)   – because that meeting had somehow been arranged to talk about every aspect of young people’s deprivation EXCEPT TRANSPORT, though the witness from Suffolk Young Carers  did dwell upon the effects of explore card cut.  Otherwise, a group of (largely) town dwellers and car owners talked as if  all the young Suffolk NEETs had no greater problems of transport than  they did themselves!

Fortunately we managed to make the point sufficiently forcibly for the excellent new  Committee Chairman (Colin Hart)  to direct a Scrutiny Tast and Finish group to look at the problem and report back.  This was helped by a surprisingly receptive response to the cuts from Guy McGregor.

This is wonderful! SCC made no equality impact assessment before embarking on this cut -which  is the reason they appeared to have  no idea of how badly it would affect young people. Neither did they engage in any form of consultation whatsoever – which  is why they have been stating that  there were no options between cutting and not cutting the card. This is far from the case. All it has ever needed as a bit  less silo mentality from the departments and some divergent thinking.

Cllr McGregor has suggested one way forward (funding drawn from the EMA replacement subsidy).  I feel there may well be several  others – for example reducing the Explore card from an age 5-19 card  to one for post-16 only, or suggesting an annual parental subscription.

One thing is certain – after this meeting I feel confident that, if SCC finally provides the will , they will be able to find a way.

Suffolks NEET problem – and a neat solution

We have just learned that 1,100 Suffolk teenagers “have no work, training or college place to go to when they leave school“, that is, a staggering 1 in 13 are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training).   And although Suffolk County Council will be scrutinising NEET next week, it looks like the scrutiny will not be addressing one major identiable – and solvable – contributory factor:  Suffolk County Council’s cut of the post 16-Explore card – halfway through this academic year.

This is odd – because the council has had plenty of warnings as to the impact of this cut – and not just via this blog.  Back in February “Save the Explore Card” petitioner, Patrick Gillard warned them in person that the cut “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.

Last month, after handing in petitions with thousands of signatures, Mr Gillard and Otley College’s Greer Hill spoke eloquently on the subject at the SCC council meeting, as did the young people of Woodbridge’s Just 42 OTS club. I was one of several councillors who also spoke – all in support of reversing this damaging and short-sighted decision  (see my  blog entry ). However when we finished speaking, no outcome was reached, no decision minuted, no progress made:  the petitioners may as well have been talking to a wall.

Yet Suffolk’s pig-headed adherence to this damaging cut seems to exist without  thought of longterm financial and social implications for the county – or indeed any “joined up thinking”  between those responsible for Education/Training, for Social Care, and for Transport.

Remember the deaf adder of the Psalms , who “stoppeth her ears, and will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely?”  You begin to wonder if the SCC Cabinet has taken that snake’s correspondence course.

Suffolk County Council:  which part of the phrase “You got it wrong” can’t you hear?

Won’t these truly shocking NEET figures finally finally persuade you  to change your minds and restore this invaluable card to the young people of Suffolk?

‘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.