Sometimes its really difficult to admit you have made a mistake, but this is what Suffolk County Council needs to do.
The Conservative majority must face reality and reverse their decision to downgrade the Suffolk Concessionary Fares passes for the elderly and disabled. They need to return this service to the level it was at two years ago before SCC took over the running of this scheme. WHen they took it over, SCC’s Tory leadership justified their position by saying they provided these travel passes at a little more than the ‘statutory UK minimum’. A good excuse but a bad decision. Problems of transport are notoriously more difficult and disabling for those of us who live in rural areas like Suffolk, and most other rural county councils make adjustments accordingly.
It was a whole year back that I proposed SCC’s Full Council that all time restrictions be lifted for disabled pass holders and reduced for those eligible due to age (so that their travel can start at 9 o’clock). This proposal was so sensible and neecessary that it had cross-party support and was voted in by councillors of all parties. (O, and the Cabinet too ). Yet, after a hugely disrespectful delay of a year – presumably to let the fuss die down a bit – Cabinet has turned its back on the disabled and the elderly once again.
What a surprise! Making these changes would cost the Council a whole £489,448 a year (that’s just over a penny a week from every Suffolk resident). This is happening in the year that Cabinet saved only a paltry £13m from this years pared-to-the-bone budget, to stash with the other £140m they hold in reserves.
This cannot be the end of the matter.
Any councillor is entitled to dispute (‘call-in’) this unfair decision – and this is exactly what the Lib Dems have done. Sadly, as the Cabinet member is on leave to the end of July it cannot now be looked at by the all-party Scrutiny committee until the 27 September. This is nearly 18 months after the restrictions first came into force.
Its a long time to keep on putting the pressure on – but its a vey worthy cause. The changes to Suffolk’s concessionary passes have affected 140,000 local people, 7000 of whom are disabled and are causing genuine hardship to people with few if any alternatives. It limits their access to work, health, education, training and social activities.
The Cabinet were fully aware that such a change would cost between £251,000 and £489,448 pa, a small proportion of the £13.1m that the County Council has underspent and entrusted to banks in this financial year alone. Their decision is frankly unbelievable.
At a time of cuts I would hate to say an expenditure under £500,000 is “peanuts”. But it compares very favourably with other SCC spending decisions such as Suffolk Circle .
Reversing these changes will allow full, affordable participation in society to two valuable and poorly recognised groups of people: those who do not want to let their disability stand in the way of their achievements – and those who do not want to let their age confine them to home. Its all a matter of priorities. Do the people of Suffolk really want the Council to hoard more and more of our money in an unstable banking system – instead of investing in the people of today for the benefit of tomorrow?