DofE Gold Awards for Woodbridge

DofEI spent a very enjoyable  – and proud – morning today at St James’ Palace,  where  over 40 young people from Suffolk schools received their Duke of Edinburgh Gold certificates from wonderful comedian Jo Brand.  In addition, they (and I)  also had the chance to meet  and talk to HRH Prince Edward.

Nearly half of the Suffolk award winners were from Farlingaye and Woodbridge schools. I can’t tell you how proud I was! Well done, each and every one of you.

Next year I am hoping that members of the new Woodbridge Explorer group  may be added to the gold award winners at the Palace.

Incentivised to drive: Suffolk’s County Councillors

crocyclist

As I mentioned recently, this year’s Public Health Report for Suffolk (Moving Forward? travel and health in Suffolk) aims to get more people out of the car and into more healthy means of travel. This is essential  for reasons ranging from health, through congestion, to potholes.

And yet, far from encouraging  county councillors to leave their cars at home,  SCC’s  current system of  councillor travel expenses is positively encouraging them to remain behind the wheel.  Lets look at the dilemma of a fictional county councillor living in my division,  Woodbridge. (I say fictional because, as we all know, I cycle or bus and don’t claim expenses anyway.)

It is an 18 mile-round cycle trip from Woodbridge to Endeavour House and back.  Assuming non-concessionary travel at morning peak (which gives the most expensive public transport fares)  the costs this councillor could legitimately claim for travel  vary as follows

  • Car ( 45p per mile): £8.10
  • Rail (return ticket):  £5.80
  • Bus (return ticket): £5.60
  • Cycle (15p per mile): £2.70
  • *Pedestrian: nothing

In other words, the amount of money claimable is in inverse proportion to the exercise undertaken.  Although the 18 miles -100 mins – cycling is the most healthy, all methods apart from  the car include some element of exercise. For rail one must walk, in my case,  1mile to the Woodbridge rail station, and a short distance at the other end to Endeavour house; for the bus I have to walk 20 mins from Tower Ramparts to Endeavour House -though one can also use the shuttle bus.

It seems totally anomalous that the claimable 15p per mile for cyclists (who are keeping fit, clearing the roads, preventing damage to the road surface  and saving taxpayers money in so many different ways) should contrast so starkly with the excessively generous 45p per mile currently accorded to those councillors who elect to save themselves effort and become health-riskers, air polluters and traffic jammers  – in short, drivers – at the expense of the taxpayer.  A show of hands in full council last week suggests these are the majority.

This is not just a matter of personal health and setting a good example. The number of such car-bound councillors MUST have a direct bearing on the number prepared to fight for a decent rural bus service – because they will not have experienced the difficulties of travelling by our currently poor, constantly changing and often unreliable rural buses. Indeed the lack of bus usage by elected members may actually provide some explanation for our poor rural bus services – ‘services’ that prevent so many people being able to rely on public transport . Councillors  might be personally motivated to challenge this state of affairs if they all got out of their cars and relied on the buses themselves.

In light of the Suffolk 2013 Public health report this seems particularly depressing.

At Full Council last Thursday  I asked the following question of Leader, Mark Bee

 “ as you have made it a council commitment that Suffolk should be ” the greenest county” and that we should  ”strive to improve the health, lifechances  and life expectancy of our residents”,  will you now commit to a reduction of the extremely generous mileage allowance Suffolk County councillors get if they use their own cars for transport on county council business – and instead to incentivise county councillors  to set a good example  to the residents of Suffolk by travelling by public transport or bicycle?

In response he promised to bring my question to the attention of the independent remuneration committee. I very much hope he will do so!

 

* I have made this journey by foot on a few occasions, but even I am prepared to say this is an unsustainable method of transport on a daily basis – as it takes five or six hours for the return trip!

 

Cycles are the future for Suffolk and Suffolk railways!

My mobile 479Suffolk’s  Annual Public Health report  2013  concerns itself with travel and health and recommends a wholesale transfer of many journeys or parts of journeys to the bicycle. Hurrah, hurrah indeed! In the case of your county councillor for Woodbridge, they are preaching to the converted.

Sadly there are other councillors who are converted in theory but not at all in practice. “I will not apologise that it’s not possible if I drive my kids to school…” “I don’t have cycle legs…” ” I’m scared on the road.. ”  At the full council debate on the subject last week, I heard a stream of excuses, exculpations and explanations from seemingly overly entitled individuals who are compensated by YOU the Council Tax payer at 44p per mile to remain in their cars at no cost to themselves –  and so don’t have to make the same choices as others they represent.

 I wholly support the aspiration, but must point out that while there is such a gap between what  councillors think is a good idea for others and what they are prepared to do themselves, we are not going to progress as far or fast as we would like.

On what appeared to be a more positive note, it looked for a while as if the train services are becoming more proactive on the subject of cycles.

Although I have had cause to raise  issues with Greater Anglia over recent months   – particularly in reference to ticket machines in general and the Woodbridge station ticket machine in particular – I was  happy to pass on that the company  has formally launched its new cycle strategy with a consultation.  It is seeking users’ and stakeholders’ views on its  policies and plans for cycle facilities. We are told that “amongst the proposals outlined  is the creation of a Greater Anglia Cycle Forum, which will meet twice a year to provide continued customer feedback and help prioritise further upgrades.”

However, if you look at their consultation in detail it seems primarily  to want to take your bike off the trains and ask you to rent their Bike and Go bike instead. See my blog piece Not on our trains? Greater Anglia’s cycle ‘consultation’

So while  there are fewer and fewer attempts at co-ordinated provision between rural bus and train services, it is only semi-nice to see that the Dutch-owned company is  improving green transport in such a limited way. I suspect we will be waiting a long long time before they introduce ‘Boris bikes’ along the East Suffolk line, where non-existent bus services and very limited carriage capacity continue to make a mockery of Suffolk County Council’s ‘greenest county’  aspirations.

And in the interim, the thought that the few bikes there is room for  might be banned does nothing to cheer up the many passengers who commute this way.

Details of the consultation  can be found on the Greater Anglia website ;  the company wants you to respond by 1 November. Please do!