Opposition’s “call in” of Suffolk County Council school transport cuts unsuccessful On Tuesday 19 June, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted to change the Home to School Transport policy so that only children travelling to their nearest school would receive free transport. The changes are due to be phased in from September 2019.
As you may be aware, LibDem Councillors and their Green and Independent colleagues have been opposed to this policy change since it was announced in September 2018. As was the Labour group. There has also been very vocal opposition from schools, parents, carers and parish councils across Suffolk.
All the opposition cross-party worked collaboratively to call in the decision to Suffolk’s Scrutiny, with Cllrs Otton and Page as the Lib Dem signatories.
The “call-in” was successful on three fronts:
1. Concern at the quality and reliability of the financial modelling;
2. Whether the Cabinet were fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute;
3. Whether there was enough analysis of the experience of Essex County Council, who implemented a similar policy in 2013.
Unfortunately despite the considered opinions of really competent and well-qualified members of the public, the Conservative administration failed to recognise their own financial forecasts were flawed. The decision will therefore go ahead.
Major review of Suffolk Highways announced The new Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Mary Evans, has launched a major review of the way highways in Suffolk are maintained.
Areas due to be reviewed include:
• Existing policy which determines how resources are deployed, known as the Suffolk Highway Maintenance Operational Plan (HMOP);
• How the location of potholes on the road is considered alongside the width and depth, recognising the impact they can have on cyclists and motorcyclists;
• How utility companies coordinate roadworks and are held to account for their actions;
• How residents, councillors and businesses are informed about road repairs and how they can access information;
• Financial control and contract management;
• How town and parish councils can work closer with Suffolk Highways to make the best use of their local knowledge, skills, money and time.
Consultation launched on future commissioning of specialist education services Suffolk County Council have launched a consultation into the commissioning strategy for the development of Suffolk’s specialist educational provision.
Demand for specialist education places in Suffolk for children with SEND continues to grow, and currently the county council has a much lower number of specialist education places than other similar authorities. This means that many children in Suffolk are forced to travel out of county to access the education provision they need – and often Suffolk County Council foots the bill.
At a time when the Council wishes to reduce the amount of free home-to-school transport it provides citing fears of escalating costs, it is vital that we begin to provide more SEND provision within Suffolk.
The 6 week consultation will look at three options for meeting the additional demand for specialist provision. More information and a link to the consultation can be found online at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/SENDsufficiencyeducation
Update: The Call-in was successful! The decision will now be scrutinised by SCC’s Scrutiny Committee on 9 July, who will investigate the quality and reliability of the financial modelling; whether the Cabinet were fully aware of the actual role played by the Consultation Institute , and whether enough weight was given to the negative experience of EssexCC when they attempted the same policy.
Suffolk’After Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted unanimously for undemocratic cuts to school transport changes, – ‘the option that nobody wanted,’ your LibDem Councillors (Leader and Transport Spokesperson, Caroline Page and LDGI Education Spokesperson Penny Otton ) are part of a cross-party opposition attempt to ‘call in’ (that is, challenge) the decision. Both councillors (and especially Penny Otton as ‘councillor on the ground’ for Thurston)have been very vocal on the subject
If the ‘call in’ is accepted, this means the decision will not go ahead until SCC’s scrutiny committee examines it fully.
The call-in was cross party, as was the unanimity of focus of the opposition questioning on Tuesday . Concerns focused the grounds whereby Cabinet discussed only the unpopular Option 2 (phased change) instead of the universally popular Option 3 (best described as ‘leave well alone.’) Lib Dem, Green and Labour questioning was forceful and forensic and took – literally – hours.
LibDem Leader Caroline Page queried the administration’s terms of reference. Was Suffolk’s offer genuinely “more generous” than the government minimum, when the government minimum covered urban and rural students indiscriminately, she asked? City students do not have 3 mile walks to their catchment school: city schools are closer and public transport is plentiful and cheap.
We were told how expensive our spend was- over £100 a student head as opposed to Salford’s £2. However, as Caroline pointed out, Salford has a total area of 8 sq miles, and it would be almost impossible for a child to live more than 3 miles from their local school! Suffolk, in comparison, has an area of 1466sq miles, “Are you not comparing apples and pears, in order to justify hard-to-justify decisionmaking?” she asked.
Cllr Page also asked why there was no Traffic Impact Assessment for the county – and while the very limited (Thurston area only) TIA failed to consider issues such as pollution and air quality? (Answer: too expensive/work in progress.) And, as over 70% of consultation respondents were women , and LG cuts disproportionally affect women, whether Cabinet could be genuinely satisfied that the IA’s conclusion that “impact on women would be minimised by phasing in the changes”, fully addressed the actual impact these changes would have on women. Ominously – but unsurprisingly -this question was not answered at all.
Penny Otton thanked Thurston school for their months of hard work. She also asked Cllr Hopfensperger whether or not she had confirmed ahead of the publication of this report (and decision of the Cabinet) that ‘local solutions’ are be implemented in September 2018, and asked for confirmation as to whether – local solutions having been provided by Thurston college and wholly ignored, whether any schools have reconfirmed their desire to work with a council that had so totally ignored their input.
John Field asked why the Cabinet report used just three years historic data as the basis of an average growth estimate. “Is that standard local government accounting practice?” Cllr Field inquired. He also pointed out that the administration was using just three very different years of rapidly reducing cost growth as the basis for their forecast. “Is that a valid forecasting technique?” he asked. (The answer in both cases was to explain what had been done – but failed to address the validity of the processes).
David Wood asked whether the Cabinet member could confirm that there would be no teacher redundancies and that no villages who currently all go to one school will now need two routes to take them to their nearest school. The answer was not the positive affirmative that one would desire.
Cllr Wood also asked why the administration didn’t commission experts from the University of Suffolk to undertake the educational impact assessment for these proposed changes.
This was new Council Leader Matthew Hicks first time chairing the Cabinet and it was a baptism of fire. It is only fair to say he chaired the meeting with justice and impartiality, allowing the opposition all the questions they wished to ask and cutting short members of his own party who wished to speak in order to make loyal declarations rather than questioning Cabinet.
Will the call-in be accepted? Watch this space!
On Saturday 4 March Suffolk’s very own Baroness Ros Scott joined Lib Dem party chair Baroness Sal Brinton to launch the Suffolk Lib Dem party manifesto for the elections in May.
We have now had had a decade of conservative cuts letting local people down. Since 2005 the Conservatives have run the County Council, consistently reducing services, rather than looking after the real needs of local people. Suffolk Liberal Democrats believe there is a better way and we need urgent action in some important areas.
Suffolk Lib Dems’ SIX priorities for local people
- Provide a £5m boost to adult social care
- Invest in the infrastructure to support new housing – roads, schools and doctor’s surgeries
- Fund a county-wide mental health programme in schools
- Fix our roads and pavements
- Invest in local bus services and make park and ride buses more frequent
- Protect our libraries
And there’s more. Read our full manifesto here
And here is the EADT’s angle on it
At the last County Council meeting (14th July) during the debate on the Annual Equalities and Inclusion Report 2016, leader David Wood asked for the following to be clarified, on his own behalf and on that of Cllrs Penny Otton and Caroline Page :-
Referring to point 3 of the report – ” Empower more people with protected characteristics to live safe, healthy and independent lives”. Could the proposer please tell me how the recently awarded Community Transport Contracts fits in with this report – especially its equality objectives.
For instance I know in Mid Suffolk one cannot use a bus pass to access these services – yet in other areas of Suffolk you can.
In my own area I am receiving complaints regarding these new services: these come from a young person with Downs Syndrome; a person with visual impairment; and a wheelchair user – all have been told they cannot access services they have come to rely on and have become an important part of their lives. In one case a person’s job is at risk; another is seriously considering moving away from the village she has lived in all her life.
My question is, how does this fit in with our equality and inclusion objectives?
Cllr Goldson could not provide an answer during the debate but has assured me he will look into this and will be replying to the question raised.
The Portfolio holder for Highways and Transport was strangely silent during the debate.
After a week when momentous change has been initiated by a referendum result that many did not expect, it feels strange to reflect on the more mundane but nevertheless important issues of the last year.
Where to begin? The financial challenge and the Council Tax? The administration promised no rises in council tax for four years, ignoring the challenging social care needs of an increasing elderly population. They have met those needs by outsourcing and changing services in a way that makes it difficult to be sure if all those who need our help get enough of it.
This year, after government encouragement the Conservatives have now introduced a special 2% precept -not a council tax rise – to meet the steadily increasing demand for care. We welcome the move and look forward to knowing just where this is spent.
Had the administration raised the council tax by a similar amount, we all would have been challenged by the need to find an extra £26 or so per household but it would have gone some way to fill the gap left by cuts to government grants.
A feature of the year has been the continuing, cross party, councillor discontent with the outsourced Highways contract. High design costs and slow response to the need for work makes it impossible for councillors to use our individual highways budgets to meet residents’ reasonable demands. It increases discontent and confirms the public mistrust of politicians. Conservatives believe in the outsourcing model, they let the contract -can we see some effective delivery please?
In the education arena we are pleased to see Suffolk – at last – moving up from so close to the bottom of the league tables. Unfortunately, poor past performance leaves our schools at risk of forced conversion to academy status. That is a transition many do not want but our poor management performance leaves little choice. The academy structure in our view leaves management overhead spread across a much smaller base. Dedicated leaders may of course produce outstanding results but the record is far from perfect.
We don’t want to be entirely critical. We applaud Conservative actions to focus intensive action on troubled families and on making every intervention count. The campaign to recruit more foster carers was first class
We thank the administration for the way they have kept us informed as the devolution proposals developed, a pleasant example of openness and honesty. It will be good if the public get the same feeling. However, we will no doubt discuss the public consultation which appears to be heading for the summer holiday period.
Saving money on services like Community Transport or Park and Ride is short sighted. If the administration is so intent on new models then they need to fully finance the transition to working services. When we say ‘working services’ we mean working for everybody – but in Mid Suffolk, older people will no longer be able to use their bus passes.
Dave Wood is pleased DEFRA have noted the importance of our protected landscapes and have guaranteed the grant to our AONB’s with a slight rise in funding. The county has followed suit, sadly without the increase.
One can’t close without a comment on Brexit. We have a new challenge. We are appalled that our nation is not mature enough to stick with our European friends and solve their problems. We prefer to abandon them to their fate and seek a better future in the past. We hope that the course back to 1930 nationalistic attitudes will not lead to a spread of behaviours like those in Ukraine.
One wonders how many who believe our trade will now grow unencumbered by regulation have first-hand experience of the competence and skill of our competitors in other nations and of the international regulation that exists.
We can’t sell railways and steam engines to the empire any more. We need many more companies like ARM in Cambridge if we are to succeed. It is doubtful whether we have them.
One hopes the Conservatives the vision our new future will require, that nationally, they will stop rewarding the rich and punishing the poor who have suffered disproportionately the price of austerity. We need to get them back on side.
Where our consciences allow we LibDems will support efforts to survive and prosper in the new Great Britain, although of course we would prefer to be heading in a different direction.
Further to our report on Suffolk’s new bus franchises Thedwastre South Councillor Penny Otton reiterates: “It now turns out Suffolk county council Tory council has awarded a contract for the Mid Suffolk area where you cannot use your bus pass. You can pay or swap your bus pass for a voucher worth £100. How many trips will that cover?? Is this fair?? I don’t think so!”
BSEVC covers not only MidSuffolk, but also Ipswich. Fortunately for the rest of Suffolk these are the only two areas where this iniquitous system is currently running -though the franchises are able to change their operating terms at any time.
“We’ve been told that BSEVC is able to refuse bus passes because they are operating 9 seater transport rather than the previous 22 seaters. This allows them to operate under different rules as community car schemes and Dial-A-Ride rather than Demand Responsive Transport. SCC officers have told us this is because the 22 seater buses are ‘not economically viable’ ; that BSEVC do hold 22 seaters, and that they could bring them back into use ‘should demand increase,” explains LibDem spokesperson for Transport, Caroline Page .
“But as the voucher system allows previous bus pass holders living in remote areas to make no more than 11 return journeys a year, it is hard to see how this promise is anything other than window dressing!”
So, people of Suffolk,will you be able to afford your new Community transport as re-engineered by your caring sharing Suffolk County Council? Will it accept your bus pass even? I really wouldn’t count on it
In Suffolk Coastal we haven’t yet been told the situation, but elsewhere in the county people already have had very bad news. Predictably, LibDem anxieties about the format of Suffolk’s new Community Transport franchises are already showing themselves to be justified.
In the whole of the mid-Suffolk district , franchisees BSEVC have already announced that they will no longer be operating Demand Responsive Transport. This means NO Bus Passes will be accepted , all fares will rise, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory. And, surprise, surprise, there seems to be no provision for young people to use SCC’s much vaunted youth card the Endeavour (that pallid simulacrum of the much more successful Explore card ). An offer to ‘restore DRT if the demand is there is meaningless. How can the demand be created if the national bus pass scheme no longer operates?
As Creeting resident Mark Valladares said bitterly on Twitter,
“My Conservative County Councillor claimed we would have a “better service at lower cost”. Now we know what he meant”
Mr Valladares also pointed out that BSEVC has scrapped the discounted return fare – his return fare is now up by 54%.
Rural community transport needs to be reliable and affordable because it underpins education, employment, training, access to health and social care for those that need it. Once again SCC’s administration have turned their backs on those that need this transport most!
Lib Dem Spokesperson, Transport
Every area is offering a one hour ‘drop in’ to inform all the people within the community link area. This adds insult to injury -not only is the time short, but the problem of access has npot been considered. For example the drop-in for the whole of Suffolk Coastal, being in Woodbridge, can only be accessed by community transport link customers BY community transport link. How many will be able to get there for 10-30 to 11.30 on a Monday morning?
|Babergh||The Dining Room, Hadleigh Town Hall, Market Place, Hadleigh, IP7 5DN||Friday 27th May||Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30|
|Forest Heath||Forest Heath District Council, Council Chamber, College Heath Road, Milden hall, IP28 7EY||Friday 3rd June||Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30|
|Ipswich||Ipswich Town Hall||Friday 10th June||Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30|
|Mid Suffolk||Mid Suffolk District Council, The Dove Room, 131 High Street, Needham Market, IP6 8DL||Wednesday 8th June||Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30|
|St Edmunds bury||St Edmundsbury District Council, West Suffolk House, Western Way, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3SP||Wednesday 1st June||Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30|
|Suffolk Coastal||Suffolk Coastal District Council, Council Chamber, Melton Hill, Woodbridge, IP12 1AU||Monday 6th June||Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30|
|Waveney||Waveney District Council, Riverside, 4 Canning Road, Lowestoft, NR33 OEG||Wednesday 25th May||Drop in between 14.00 & 15.00|
We’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.
Lib Dem Spokesperson, Transport