Once again SCC Conservatives misuse Suffolk’s Cabinet system to stifle democracy. This time, by forcing through an unpopular and unreasonable decision on concessionary bus fares for the disabled and elderly without allowing questions or debate!
Let’s face it – the easiest way to get people to do what you want is not to allow them any other option. And it does save the bother of answering awkward questions!
For the last 18 months my Lib Dem colleagues and I have been trying to increase the newly imposed restrictions on the bus pass scheme so as to offer free 24/7 transport to disabled pass holders, and travel from 9am for the elderly. Currently all pass holders are restricted to weekday travel from 9.30 to 23.00 . A tragedy for those for whom bus travel is the only option to staying at home; a farce for all of us rural folks whose buses stop in the early evening and run poorly or not at all at weekends (click here for details)
SCC Tories refer to our proposals as ‘enhancements’ and proclaim that the key issue is ‘one of budget priority’ (eg unaffordable – an argument that would be considerably more credible if we didn’t know how much they have stashed away at low interest in reserves). In fact the issue is one of demand, of need and of legality. Using the word ‘enhancements’ is rather cheeky. The current scheme was agreed last year and provides significant reductions to a very long term status quo. The visually handicapped, for example, had been eligible for free 24/7 passes since WW2! And for many others, these passes are not luxuries. They are necessities.
SCC’s reductions to the status quo (or rather, the poor and unrigorous process by which they were arrived at) were the subject of a concerned letter from Britain’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission. This underlined – amongst other things – the extraordinarily poor consultation and Impact Assessments Suffolk’s Cabinet had used to support their decision-making:
‘Your decision-makers must be made aware in substance of the council’s duty to have due regard to the equality goals in the equality duties. The ‘due regard’ must be exercised with rigour and with an open mind. It is not a question of ticking boxes.’
As many may know I’m the carer for a relative with a catastrophic health condition, and on the morning of the meeting, was confronted with an unexpected medical emergency. However I emailed four questions to be asked on my behalf. In vain. SCCs Conservative Cabinet decided not to examine its own poor track-record on decision-making and evidence gathering – and waved their decision on Concessionary Fares through without the courtesy of any debate AT ALL.
“J’y suis, j’y reste,” as the General said at Sebastapol.
This action stifled any public airing of their questionable assumptions on finances, their cavalier attitude to equality impact assessments and the shameful farce of their 12 day consultation. Just another example of how undemocratic the Conservatives want the Cabinet process to be.
Yet they could have retired from the field moderately gracefully – and with a perfectly reasonable saving of face. As the Tories’ claims about costs were made on the flimsiest of foundations, a reasonable response would be to agree to provide ‘enhancements’ to Suffolk’s 7,000 disabled pass-holders for 1 year and see how expensive this was in actuality. Or did they not want to be proved wrong?
It is a disgrace that the disposition of such important issues should be decided by this small group of unrepresentative individuals, who refuse to listen to reason or their electorate.
So much for Democracy in Suffolk.
Since writing this I have discovered Epilepsy Society have started a campaign for changes to the disabled persons’ pass to allow pass-holders to travel at peak times – with a companion if necessary. (And if you have intractable epilepsy, a companion may be very necessary. ) Along with visual impairment, epilepsy is a condition where bus travel can be a lifeline – as I know from personal experience!