FACT – fire safety for the vulnerable

I went to a meeting of the Wickham Market and District Carers’ group today, where, yet again, we were treated to the most brilliant and useful talk. This time it was from FACT (Fire and Carers Together).

Explaining FACT to all of us who are desperate to know..

The Suffolk FACT scheme is a free service in Suffolk for family carers and vulnerable people with additional needs who might find it difficult to leave their home, or understand when they should leave their home, or know how to leave their home, in the event of a fire. As you can see, it gives essential information.

How does it work? Basically, Suffolk Family Carers works in partnership with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service to assist family carers and vulnerable people to prevent fire in their homes. Fire safety officers will  come out to your home, and provide a very specific home fire safety check on site, and then give you advice – and appropriate (free) equipment if it is needed. By registering with FACT, you  – and those you care for – will learn how to prevent fire in the home – and will be helped to prevent it.

And more – FACT can give you a (free) listing on their an emergency database at the Fire Control and Command Room . This  alerts them to people with special needs or requirements should there be a fire on the property and will help them prioritise rescue.

We in Suffolk can be proud that FACT is the first scheme of its kind in the country.

So far, FACT has registered a great many people in Suffolk, and has also provided over 800 home fire safety checks. Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service has fitted many fire alarms, including sensory alarms (ones that can alert people with hearing difficulties).

Carers: there is no charge for this service… so please, please, make the most of it!

More details and how to register on the FACT scheme, here

Suffolk Buses reach their Beeching moment?

The First Bus decision to pull the plug on their Bury St Edmunds services and close the depot at the end of March  is a further step in the apparently unstoppable destruction of Suffolk’s public transport services. It is particularly tragic because – after Beeching’s shortsighted and illjudged railway decisions of the 60s – many parts of Suffolk are now not served by rail and have only a bus service to rely on. 
Now it’s Suffolk bus services that are at a Beeching moment.  Sadly, many council tax payers are are left reliant on the decisions of a county council administration that doesn’t value or support bus transport and that has made bus services the focus of recent budget cuts (remember, for example the Bury Road Park and Ride closure (details here)? last year’s loss of all evening/Sunday bus services to Woodbridge and beyond (details here)?). Such cuts have little personal impact on any councillor or officer who runs a car, and yet these are the people making the decisions.
SCC needs to remember that the impact of poor/non-existent bus services is felt amongst other very real people. People who pay their council taxes and contribute to the community but who also happen to be elderly, or poor, or disabled, as well as others who rely on the bus to reach their college or first time job in order to contribute to the future of Suffolk.  SCC decisionmaking should be addressing these people’s needs as well as pandering to those residents who pay no more tax but are lucky enough to be able to use a car!
Of course, we shouldn’t put all the blame on the county council. At national level, the Coalition needs to reverse the iniquitous deregulation of bus services, instituted under Thatcher, and shamefully supported by the last Labour government. Deregulation has left rural communities at the mercy of bus companies with little local interest or management presence, who can run the moneymaking routes as poorly as they choose. The County Council, on the other hand,  is only allowed to run ones that run at a loss.
Tell me, is this how the ‘free market’ gives us a better service?
Despite this,  SCC could choose to be far more proactive than it has been. It could lobby both Suffolk’s MPs and central government for increased support for rural public transport. It could also show that SCC cares though direct action to preserve scheduled bus services. In July’s council meeting, I proposed a motion to increase support to disabled and elderly bus user (details here) via improved bus pass conditions. This motion was passed almost unanimously by full council and referred back to the Cabinet.
Since July, Cabinet has overseen the revision, recasting, re-consultation, decisionmaking and embarkation of their new Library services despite few Suffolk residents wanting any change whatsoever. Many many Suffolk residents want changes to the new terms and conditions for bus pass holders. Has Cabinet looked at bus passes?  Six months on we’re still waiting for a date!
By the way, I note with interest that passengers who wish to register a complaint about the withdrawal of the Bury St Edmunds services are ‘advised to contact First buses directly on 08456 020 121’. I suggest that this is precisely what people should do
This is a slightly extended version of my letter to the EADT  published today, 18-01-2012.