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!