On this Sunday’s Politics programme, SCC Lib Dem leader Dave Wood will be voicing robust support for his party at both local and national level in advance of the Lib Dem party conference.
“After the initial shock at finding ourselves blamed for everything the Coalition government does, and the protest vote that cost us seats, we’ve realised that people have got into the habit of relying on us to hold the worst excesses of the Tories at bay, without acknowledging any of the good things we do. They’re having their cake and eating it! “ he says.
“So, instead of just getting on and doing the job – as we always do – we have to start shouting about our local and national successes. It’s up to us to bring our out light from under the bushel because it is clearly in the interests of both Tories and Labour to keep it hidden. But we do a lot. Let’s stop being so modest about our achievements.
Locally our hard work and dedication is acknowledged and respected. This is why no sitting Suffolk LibDem councillor lost their seat in the 2013 election. Yet for far too long we have been hard-working councillors that everybody knows and relies on without expecting the pat on the backs we deserve. We need to be proud of what we have achieved and be proud to tell everyone about our successes. In Suffolk, our local defence of local services saw off Andrea Hill’s New Strategic Direction, while nationally, we are behind all those many innovations like the triple lock pension, tax-cuts for the low paid, the pupil premium, and bringing record numbers of poorer students into higher education etc. These are improving life for so many of us in Suffolk – and in the UK as a whole.
We need to confront people with the reality: ask them what the Tories would be doing if we Lib Dems weren’t there to rein them in and keep watch on things. Unlike a lot of other European countries, the UK is not used to Coalition governments and hasn’t fully understood how they work. Too many people choose to see this Coalition as a friendship group, rather than what it is – a temporary alliance of very differing views. It suits the Labour party to support this view – after all the Coalition only exists to deal with the mess they left this country in.
We must not be afraid to tell everyone what we are doing and be proud to do so.”
Cllr Penny Otton has campaigned long and hard to get free home-to-school transport for a small number of pupils in Rattlesden, Woolpit and Elmswell who were caught between catchment areas. At the moment these villages are each split between Stowupland and Thurston High Schools’ catchments although from 2014 they will all be in the Thurston catchment.
A few families, having chosen to send their children to Thurston Community College were faced with an unexpected termly bill.
“It just didn’t seem fair,” says Penny Otton. “Especially as no-one in their right mind would want to send their child to Stowupland for one single year!”
” The families were very poorly informed, both as to the situation and as to their rights. I have been fighting this anomaly for months. At least today the SCC cabinet has come round to my point of view and agreed to allow free transport to the year 9 pupils involved. However I am very disappointed that year 10 children will still be forced to pay when their friends just 1 street away do not. This is not equitable in the circumstances.”
Faced with the major collapse of rural bus ‘services’ in Suffolk, Woodbridge Councillor and Lib Dem Spokesman for Transport Caroline Page, has long been calling on both Suffolk County Council and the government to look at re-regulation of rural bus services.
“The response of both institutions has been largely negative,” she says “despite clear evidence that ‘competition’ and ‘market forces’ have done absolutely nothing to benefit rural users over the last decades .”
Yet re-regulation is not impossible.
Last Friday the five Tyne and Wear councils voted to start the consultation necessary to re-regulate their buses . It will be the first region to take the plunge since deregulation of bus non-London services in the 1980s. Re-regulation will allow the region to aim once again for the efficiency, coverage and price which is standard for bus services in regulated London by giving bus companies franchises to run all local services, instead of letting them cherry-pick the ones on which they can make the most money. This is why there are ‘bus wars’ on popular routes in towns and no service at all in many rural areas.
Tyne and Wear was warned that without change, all local school buses would go; a further 200 bus routes would likely disappear, and concessionary child fares would vanish. However, if the councils take over the bus routes, they could use the current subsidy and profits to grow the service to make it meet the needs of all residents.
“Tyne and Wear’s problems are not dissimilar to those we are facing in Suffolk,” says Caroline.
Buses are Britain’s main form of public transport, and in the old days the concept of bus ‘services’ meant service: popular routes would fund socially necessary but less income-generating services elsewhere. De-regulation was heralded by the Thatcher administration as providing competition, but in fact since the 80s some big bus companies have clearly used their size to see off other competitors creating local monopolies which do not benefit passengers at all . According to the FT “Bus companies earn higher margins outside London.. Stagecoach makes an average of 17 per cent outside London, while the figure for Go-Ahead is 10 per cent.” The FT says that average London operators make between 4 and 5 %.
“Bus companies should be forced to compete with each other to provide proper services rather than to maximise profits. I once again call upon Suffolk County Council to do everything they can to make this possible,” says Caroline.