Category Archives: Transport

Lib Dems support Community Transport

cropped-Banner1.jpgWe’re all  representatives of  many Suffolk residents who are left at the mercy of our current rural transport service. As such, your Lib Dem councillors were keen to support a Labour motion to Full Council yesterday calling on the Conservative administration to  reverse decisions it has made about the future of community transport (see here for details).

As Lib Dem spokesperson for Transport, Caroline Page put it:  ” The new-look Community Transport is tasked  with doing so much more for so many more with so much less. Cynically it would seem that a primary reason for this design is that should these services fail, they would fail at one remove from the County Council. The outcome – whether intentional or not – is SCC could then look at the people unable to get where they need to go – the very people for whom Community Transport was intended – and say, “Not my fault, guv.””

A planned cut of 50% to the County council operators’ subsidy, when combined with a move away   from community-based services is a double-whammy.

Cllr Page pointed out that change was inevitable at a time of austerity. “But to remove the subsidy and to remove the minibus fleet simultaneously – and then sit back and say “Of course you’ll make a profit!” without checking whether it is possible, or what will happen to those who would lose out if it fails, seems plain irresponsible.”

Leader Colin Noble had confirmed earlier in the meeting that the current Rural Services Delivery Grant had maintained, rather than cut, Suffolk’s level of rural  funding. This emphasises the subsidy cut was not necessary “but an exercise of power without responsibility, putting ideology before efficiency,” said Cllr Page.

“I can only reiterate what I said at last month’s budget meeting: Yes, this is a time of austerity and we must all get real. SO lets talk the reality of reality. At such times we have a duty to support those people who are suffering most from the impact of austerity. We must do everything to ensure our rural community transport reliable public transport reliably underpins education, employment, training, access to health and social care for those that need it. ”

Despite impassioned and intelligent argument from the opposition cross benches,  the motion was voted down by the ruling Conservative administration.

Caroline Page
Lib Dem Spokesperson, Transport

SEN Education in Suffolk review – Consultation (& Update)

Update: The first tranche of this consultation  finished on 7th February. Click here for Cllr Caroline Page’s response and remarks: SEND Education on Suffolk – the costs and hidden costs).

Suffolk County Council are currently consulting about the future of specialist education provision in Suffolk.

Opposition councillors were naturally sceptical that this was cover for money-saving, but  very clear and open answers from  officers have reassured us that this is not a cost-cutting exercise (the money is ring-fenced) but about spending it to best advantage and with better outcomes.

Suffolk currently has 256 young people sent out of county at the cost of £11m a year for educational provision that Suffolk has not been able or willing to provide in county; some of Suffolk’s PRUs ‘require improvement’ (one is in special measures) and are significantly more expensive per capita  and produce worse outcomes than Norfolk’s (which are rated outstanding), and all the SSCs (specialist support centres)  are located in one quadrant of the county because historically they were only sited in schools that declared themselves willing to house them. “This means there is no specialist support provision in the north and west of the county and some children are making two 75-minute journeys a day to reach them,” according to Caroline Page, spokesperson for Transport and Vice Chair of Educational Transport Appeals.

Suffolk is asking for responsesto find the best way to address these issues and others.

From  11 January – 7 February 2016  people have the opportunity to give your views on a range of options Suffolk are looking at, and you can also suggest other ideas for Suffolk to consider. From 14 March – 24 April 2016 there will be a formal consultation on the proposed changes:  a 6 week formal consultation period where you can make representations to the Council – both expressions of support or objections to the proposals.

So, whether you are concerned or worried, or simply want to add your voice to the debate –  please respond and add your views! They will be valued  You can find the documents here

Caroline Page

Suffolk gets new Community Transport model – despite reservations

Suffolk will be getting a new Community Transport model – despite reservations from opposition parties – after the  cabinet decision to tender for continuing community transport using a new structure was “called in” this month.

Community transport is the term for services like Dial a Ride that provide “on demand” transport to people no longer served by scheduled buses or trains. Over recent years the Conservative administration have increasingly replaced scheduled bus services in rural areas of Suffolk with community transport, but delivery has remained patchy disparate and problematic.  A variety of these services have operated under various brands serving different communities and specific user-groups although their vehicles have been provided by the county and the services largely specified by county officers. Often people have had little idea of availability and there has been large areas of unmet need – particularly in the area of young person’s travel , regular travel to employment, weekend and evening travel, and same day travel.

Under the new proposal,  seven contracts would be let (one per district council). This would ensure people would easily know who they should phone to book a journey and allow for greater flexibility of provision.  The problem with that is that people often travel from one district to another to visit the hospital or shop in a major town.

The proposal is that  current vehicles will  be sold to the providers, a move that would allow a wider range of customers to be served.  When the county owns vehicles, providers cannot use them to provide services if that would compete with commercial services. That would involve the state subsidising one service to compete against another.

Another advantage will be that they can then select vehicles to meet the need as they see it rather than having to use what the county provides.

The county hopes that this will allow competition for services such as some forms of home-to-school transport that will use the assets more intensively.

So why was this proposal called in by the Labour group?  Well, there were five reasons but we  LibDems thought the most significant was financial.

The intention was that, not only would the county no longer provide free vehicles saving it some some £570k (which largely voluntary bodies would have to find) but also it would reduce the subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years.  Increased revenue from the new freedom to provide services was supposed to compensate for this significant cut.

Scrutiny believed it more likely that, although the providers would survive, using their new freedoms and their vehicles to provide the county with alternative sources of transport (for instance home to school services) others would suffer.  Many services to people without other transport options would be unlikely to be supported by the new lower county contribution – and will be cut.  And as the new contract is deliberately non-specific, the County could  claim this is a matter outside its control.

We referred the decision back to cabinet but in a very brief process which allowed no comment from other councillors they dismissed the reasoning of the cross party scrutiny committee and decided there would be no change.

So much for democracy!

John Field
Caroline Page