Tag Archives: young people

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?

Town Council Report June 11

My most recent report to Woodbridge Town Council, on 14th June, heralds the chance of a new era at SCC, with a change of leader and the possibility of other changes. However it becomes clear that SCC having a legal obligation to  e-petitions had developed or considered no strategy to deal with these petitions  once presented.
An extraordinary Cabinet grants £10m for broadband from reserves, although the very same people had been deeply snitty only a month or two back, when the Lib Dems  suggested the interim funding of vital frontline services via a much smaller sum from reserves ( full details here).  One rule for them, and another for the rest of  us – same old, same old.
Locally I’m interested in suggestions for spending Quality of Life money and Locality budget money

Full Council AGM

At the Full Council AGM on the 26th of May Cllr Mark Bee was elected leader of the Council, with Jane Storey continuing as deputy.  In addition,Patricia O’Brien became SCC Chairman for 2011, with ex-leader Jeremy Pembroke named as Vice-Chair , and thus Chair in the next (Olympic) year..

The Council discussed the Third Suffolk Local Transport Plan, which outlines the County’s top transport infrastructure priorities.  This is a statutory duty and covers the period from 2011 to 2031.  The plan refers to possible  short term schemes such as the Beccles rail loop, the A14 Copdock improvements and the Ipswich Chord.  As the plan lasts for twenty years, the Council has also included more medium and long term aspirations, which include  the perennial  A12 Four Villages improvement.

I spoke  here of the extraordinary lack of SMART targets in this Plan’s set-up – relying as it does so completely on both privatised rail and privatised bus services (over which SCC has absolutely no control) and the fact that demand responsive transport which is what SCC has replaced its subsidised services with does not solve the problems of the car-less at the very times they might need it most.
However, the plan was passed with 46 votes for the plan, 7 against, and 8 abstentions.

Another item on the agenda was the decision to reinstate the County Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee, abolished in December.  This decisionwas fully supported by the Liberal Democrat opposition, as we feel it is necessary to have a committee that looks solely at health to give it the attention it deserves.  All too often the agenda of the new scrutiny committee is filled with health related items, limiting the ability to fully scrutinise County Council decisions.

Petitions

The AGM also heard three petitions which had achieved sufficient signatures to be returned to the Council for further discussion: calls to save the EXplore Card, Country Parks, and Household Waste Recycling Centres from the recent cuts imposed at the Councils February budget meeting.

The author of the petitions each spoke for five minutes, appealing for their petitions to be acted upon.   There was much support in the public gallery for the eXplore card petition, with members of youth clubs, schools and colleges attending to watch the discussion and subsequent decisionmaking, despite this petition being heard in the middle of GCSE, A.A/S and college exams. Woodbridge should be very proud of its Just 42 Off the Streets representatives, who put some very cogent questions directly to Cllr McGregor, the portfolioholder.

After the petitioners had spoken, Councillors from all parties had the opportunity to input into a very brief discussion prior to the portfolio holder speaking on the subject. I spoke on the subject of the Explore card as one of the petitioners was from Woodbridge, and the Woodbridge and district Just 42 youth club have been very supportive of the petition –  and I had received a lot of emails and calls on the subject from worried parents and students. In each case discussion was followed by a port-folio holder speech in which the cut was asserted.

At this point it became clear that no-one  within the council  at all had any very clear idea as what was to happen next. Clearly ending the process undemocratically by means of a response from the very person who had organised, agreed and implemented the cut –in the case of the Explore card, without any public consultation – reduced the concept of the epetition to no more than a figleaf. SO what whas to happen next? During a short recess,  Explore card petitioners were promised by Mark Bee and Guy McGregor   that the problems of their particular cut would go  before scrutiny. This has yet to happen. (note : subsequently, of course it did, see here )

The opposition is particularly concerned that all three sets of petitioners need to be told now, exactly what is to happen next, and that the procedure for dealing with e-petitions MUST be sorted out before the next council meeting to prevent this ridiculous state of affairs happening in the future and allow these petitions to perform the constitutional function for which they were created.

Cabinet: Care homes and Home to School Transport

In Cabinet on 24 May , decisions of note included:

Care Homes: the Cabinet agreed to note the recommendations put forward by the current business agent: sale of all homes as going concerns.  The Cabinet agreed to receive a further report in February will details of those who have expressed an interest in the Care Homes, prior to awarding any contracts. How this will be affected by  recent news of the collapse of Southern Cross remains to be seen.

The Cabinet also agreed revisions to the home to school transport policy, which include removing the subsidised transport for those students who will be admitted to a Roman Catholic aided School, other than for those who are entitled by law.  Those students, who already receive the transport, and those who will join the schools in September 2011, will continue to receive the subsidised transport until they leave.  The Cabinet also agreed that the parental charges for  discretionary transport provided by the County Council will be £150 per term; this will increase by £10 each year over the next two years.

Extraordinary Cabinet: Broadband

A further emergency Cabinet on 10 June reflected on Broadband provision in Suffolk after Suffolk lost out on national grants although The Government had made available a fund of £530m to support the provision of fast broadband across the country. We were told that this was because Suffolk County Council  under the previous leader had not wished to contribute more than a few hundred thousand pounds to the project – which the national grant-makers  BDUK considered inadequate.  Suffolk currently has one of the poorest broadband networks in England. The average broadband speed currently experienced by Suffolk’s consumers and small businesses is under 5Mbps.

Cabinet therefore considered an increased Suffolk County Council contribution to the project up to a maximum of £10million over the 4 years of the project to match the contribution from BDUK; and authorised the Director for Economy Skills and Environment in consultation with the Portfolio Holders for Greenest County, Economy and Skills and for Resource Management to determine the final level of Suffolk County Council contribution in conjunction with other public sector partners in Suffolk.

The total cost of implementation is estimated at £41.7 million, of which approximately half is expected to come from the private sector. Suffolk County Council has committed up to £10m in the expectation that BDUK will at least match that amount.

Local issues

My Quality of life budget: Sandy lane traffic calming. I have left the current plans for this with the clerk, if anyone wishes to comment. I had assumed there might be a need for haste because repair work is being undertaken in Sandy Lane for the next few weeks, but having consulted with the engineer there will be no resultant economies in scale. We are hoping to get some air quality grant money to assist in the calming measures.

I am interested in other possible small schemes and would be grateful for suggestions from councillors.

My Locality budget: I am always keen for new suggestions. Several people have mentioned Woodbridge’s lack of bicycle racks to me. Specific areas have been: on the Market Hill, down at Cross Corner and by Kingston Fields. There need to  be more racks down by Café Nero as this is clearly a popular place for bike parking.

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.