Suffolk is “Connecting Communities” even less

Rural concessionary bus pass holders are losing travel entitlement due to cheeseparing decisionmaking by our penny-foolish pound-foolish county council.

Harsh words? I will tell more. In recent years, where scheduled bus transport is not supported (and SCC has made a point of not supporting rural scheduled buses over the last decade), demand responsive transport (DRT) is provided instead. Initially bus pass holders had the same rights on DRT bus transport as they would have on the scheduled service. In 2016 this changed (You can read details here): http://carolinepage.blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2016/06/16/will-your-pass-be-accepted-on-sccs-new-community-transport

I was delighted at the time to discover that Suffolk Coastal bus pass holders together with most other districts would not lose entitlement, though very concerned that Mid-Suffolk bus pass holders would. I was also concerned that this loss of entitlement might spread. I was right!

Hidden in this year’s budget  (Appendix E p5 Table 1.3: Tactical Savings – Cost Reductions) is the following: COST-GHI-4 Passenger Transport: Removal of Concessionary Fares from Connecting Communitiesto ensure consistency of pricing through Suffolk.”

These are weasel words. “Consistency of pricing” could more fairly be achieved by restoring concessionary fares to Mid Suffolk than taking them away from everywhere else. This decision is expected to save £30,000. Less than half of what our fiscally prudent administration wasted on the recent 14pp ResPublica report on Housing. Talk about inappropriate priorities.

Put this together with the budget cut advertised on p7 of the same Appendix E (Table 1.6: Tactical Savings – Service Reductions): SER-GHI-12 Passenger Transport: Net savings achieved through a reduction in funding for sponsored bus services combined with an investment in the Connecting Communities demand-responsive community transport service) you can see the administration are creating a perfect storm for those least able to manage: the elderly and disabled with few other choices All to save another £34,000 – literally both sums added together are not equivalent to the money thrown down the gurgler for that 14pp Respublica report).

So why does this matter? The issue is one of equality. If you are unable to use your bus pass and are entitled to one, you can swap your entitlement for (I think) £100.00 of travel vouchers annually. This is useful if you are eg so disabled you cannot access buses, and therefore cannot make use of them.

However in the situation where a bus pass holder is not offered any local buses, they may be very enthusiastic users. This decision means such people have to choose between the vouchers for very local transport- and a bus pass that can be used on every scheduled bus service going throughout the UK, but not locally.

These two linked budget decisions therefore represent a huge loss specifically to elderly and disabled rural people with few transport choices  – either financially, or in terms of transport freedom.

Only an administration which has no understanding or reliance on a bus pass would have considered or enacted it…

Balance for Better: National Womens Day 2019

#BalanceforBetter – this years slogan for International Women’s Day.

Gender balance is essential for fair and thriving economies, businesses, communities. People need to recognise that achieving balance is not just a “Women’s issue”, it’s an issue for everyone. As the chinese say, 妇女能顶半边天 (fù nǚ néng dǐng bàn biān tiān: women hold up half the sky.)

Hold onto that half here – its a numbers game.

Suffolk is the home of women’s suffrage – yet 150 years after Millicent Fawcett started her first suffrage petition, a century after her sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became Aldeburgh’s first Mayor, there are just 22 women councillors elected to Suffolk County Council. Women make up only 29% of Suffolk’s councillors (significantly below the already appalling 33% UK average). At the current rate of progress it’ll take 48 years for the UK to reach gender equality – and nearer 80 in Suffolk. Yet we women make up over half the population! And decisions affect us disproportionately.

Suffolk may have been the birthplace of women’s suffrage, of women’s higher education, of women’s independence – but modern Suffolk has a high gender pay gap, high levels of violence against women, and poor outcomes for girls.

A 2016 report by Plan International on the quality of life of girls across the UK – looking at child poverty, life expectancy, teenage pregnancy, GCSE results and NEET – highlighted Suffolk’s hidden need. Both Ipswich and Waveney were well in the lowest quartile for the UK, with Ipswich ranked 289th out of all 346 English & Welsh district councils. Yet both officers and councillors at Suffolk County Council were unaware of Suffolk’s poor performance. There is a problem with the way that data is gathered and analysed: Suffolk’s “gender data gap”.

The data gap is surprisingly prevalent . When asking the police about local statistics on domestic violence incidents, I was told they did not record the sex of the offender. When we worry about the impact of school transport changes, we don’t have the gender figures for parental impact. We do not know how many of the carers in the community may also be 50’s women with a vanishing pension age, how many non-driving bus users are women, how many lone parent families are headed by women.

As Caroline Criado Perez has recently discovered, the default of person, is man.

Applied to the “gender data gap” this default makes it harder to understand the impact that local and national policies – decided so substantially by men – have on the women and girls of Suffolk. It makes it hard to prove that both cuts and support are administered most appropriately. It makes it much less easy to improve outcomes for either.

Today let’s embrace #BalanceforBetter, and pledge to make a change, and challenge Suffolk’s “gender data gap! We women have nothing to lose but our statistical invisibility!

Come support Jetty Lane planning decision, Thurs 21 Feb!

In the early 60s, the Woodbridge Club was long established, and clearly popular with both the young people of Woodbridge and the older residents who lived nearby. Note – this dancing was till 11pm, under the aegis of the magnificent Mike Warden and the late, much lamented, Don Spall! And as the article puts it “And those of the older generation must say ‘and why not?'”

Update: The district planning committee voted unanimously to give permission, and said some very complimentary things about the Jetty Lane  plans and intentions. We couldn’t be better pleased! This is another real vote of confidence in the project

The vital planning meeting  for  Woodbridge ‘s proposed Jetty Lane Community Youth and Arts Centre is being held tomorrow, Thursday 21 February, at Suffolk Coastal’s new headquarters in Riduna Park.  It’s a public meeting – do come and support us and the community of Woodbridge. We’re expecting the discussion to take place early – around 9am – so please get there before 9.

When the Community Youth Centre was pulled down in 2017, many groups were forced to move out of Woodbridge simply  because there was nowhere to house them. The Jetty Lane  site (Jetty Lane being the original name of The Avenue) – has been used uninterruptedly for Youth and Community clubs and meetings since 1949 : that’s SEVENTY years!  It is now the last site suitable for such a centre in Woodbridge.

The County Council have such faith in the need for this project to have offered a 125y lease on the land. We are really hoping that the district council will have similar faith!

It is clear that Jetty Lane has a great deal of community support. However, despite a number of community consultations (still ongoing) a few residents still have personal concerns about this project. This is understandable. As chair of Jetty Lane I would like to assure them that the cic – soon to be a charity – will work with them at all times to endeavour to allay their concerns . After all,  this site has been occupied for the same purposes for seventy years. It’s not exactly new.

Slightly more startling however,  are the two letters of objection sent to the Planning department  from a central London-based planning consultancy on behalf of unnamed and unknown ‘local interests’.  We do not know whether these ‘local interests’  are people, or companies, or even people who are associated with companies.  What, do you think, is their agenda?  Is it to benefit the community of Woodbridge?