I was delighted at the time to discover that Suffolk Coastal bus pass holders together with most other districts would not lose entitlement, though very concerned that Mid-Suffolk bus pass holders would. I was also concerned that this loss of entitlement might spread. I was right!
Hidden in this year’s budget (Appendix E p5 Table 1.3: Tactical Savings – Cost Reductions) is the following: COST-GHI-4 Passenger Transport: Removal of Concessionary Fares from Connecting Communities “to ensure consistency of pricing through Suffolk.”
These are weasel words. “Consistency of pricing” could more fairly be achieved by restoring concessionary fares to Mid Suffolk than taking them away from everywhere else. This decision is expected to save £30,000. Less than half of what our fiscally prudent administration wasted on the recent 14pp ResPublica report on Housing. Talk about inappropriate priorities.
Put this together with the budget cut advertised on p7 of the same Appendix E (Table 1.6: Tactical Savings – Service Reductions): SER-GHI-12 Passenger Transport: Net savings achieved through a reduction in funding for sponsored bus services combined with an investment in the Connecting Communities demand-responsive community transport service) you can see the administration are creating a perfect storm for those least able to manage: the elderly and disabled with few other choices. All to save another £340,000. Both sums added together are less than a TENTH of the sum County’s Tory administration tossed casually to ‘consultants’ for the failed Orwell Crossing).
So why does this matter? The issue is one of equality. If you are unable to use your bus pass and are entitled to one, you can swap your entitlement for (I think) £100.00 of travel vouchers annually. This is useful if you are eg so disabled you cannot access buses, and therefore cannot make use of them.
However in the situation where a bus pass holder is not offered any local buses, they may be very enthusiastic users. This decision means such people have to choose between the vouchers for very local transport- and a bus pass that can be used on every scheduled bus service going throughout the UK, but not locally.
These two linked budget decisions therefore represent a huge loss specifically to elderly and disabled rural people with few transport choices – either financially, or in terms of transport freedom.
Only an administration which has no understanding or reliance on a bus pass would have considered or enacted it…
So, people of Suffolk,will you be able to afford your new Community transport as re-engineered by your caring sharing Suffolk County Council? Will it accept your bus pass even? I really wouldn’t count on it.
UPDATE:I am very happy and relieved to report Suffolk Coastal Community Transport -operated by previous operators CATS and FACTS(ibn Felixstowe)- will be operating the same services as before: a mix of Demand Responsive Transport (on which bus passes will be accepted), and door-to-door and community car services on which passes won’t be accepted (exactly as before.) They are available for booking by anyone – old, young, disabled, ablebodied, carowner or carless to and from areas without a bus service or with very sparse services. They will operate Monday to Saturday 7-7, and can be block-booked (better than before) up to two weeks in advance.
The phone number is 01728 635938
Please use it folks. Or lose it.
However in mid-Suffolk, the franchisees BSEVC have already announced that they will be operating no Demand Responsive Transport in their Community Transport offer – eg Bus Passes will NO LONGER be accepted, all fares will rise, under-16 fares will only apply if are accompanied by an adult, and the under 18 reduction is derisory. And, surprise, surprise, there seems to beno provision for young people to use SCC’s much vaunted youth card the Endeavour(that pallid simulacrum of the much more successful Explore card the young people of Woodbridge fought so hard with me to keep)
As Creeting resident Mark Valladares said bitterly on Twitter,
“My Conservative County Councillor claimed we would have a “better service at lower cost”. Now we know what he meant”
Mr Valladares also pointed out that BSEVC has scrapped the discounted return fare – his return fare is now up by 54%.
We wait for information
The Dining Room, Hadleigh Town Hall, Market Place, Hadleigh, IP7 5DN
Friday 27th May
10.30 & 11.30
Forest Heath District Council, Council Chamber, College Heath Road, Milden hall, IP28 7EY
Friday 3rd June
Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Ipswich Town Hall (Change)
Friday 10th June
Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Mid Suffolk District Council, The Dove Room, 131 High Street, Needham Market, IP6 8DL
Wednesday 8th June
Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
St Edmunds bury
St Edmunds bury District Council, West Suffolk House, Western Way, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3SP
Wednesday 1st June
Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Suffolk Coastal District Council, Council Chamber, Melton Hill, Melton, IP12 1AU
Monday 6th June
Drop in between 10.30 & 11.30
Waveney District Council, Riverside, 4 Canning Road, Lowestoft, NR33 OEG
The first tranche of Suffolk’s review of its special educational provision – the consultation -finished last Sunday. I responded jointly as councillor and as parent as the form allowed.
We were told that the review was focusing on the following three types of current specialist educational provision:
1) Specialist Support Centres (SSCs) (I am in favour, indeed I would like Suffolk to establish another one in the north west of the county); 2) Residential provision in Moderate Learning Disability (MLD) Special Schools (I felt this needed discussion with parents as best placed to define wants) and
3) Alternative Provision (AP). Alternative Provision was used in the consultation as a catch-all for ‘any provision that provides education that is not a mainstream school or academy’. It includes all provision for young people with specialist health issues, for example autism, and epilepsy which is often provided out of county at great expense (and now to age 25 because of recent legislation). AP was also used to include PRUs (Pupil Referral Units): facilities offering a part time or full time education for pupils who exhibit challenging behaviour. Typically pupils spend 2 terms in a PRU before being reintegrated back into school.
We were told
Currently the county council is experiencing considerable pressures with the number of learners with additional needs (236 currently) needing to be educated in non – Suffolk settings, with learners requiring access to Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) provision accounting for 151 of the 236 learners
However, in the consultation, despite these remarks on the cost of out-of-county placements in general the AP question focused entirely on PRUs (see below)!
Now, as regards PRUs, I would not throw the baby away with the bathwater and would definitely ensure that excellent provision in Suffolk is not lost in any rationalisation we undertake, and I was happy to respond saying as much.
HOWEVER, I concentrated most of my response on the hidden question of what Suffolk is doing, or rather not doing, for students – like my own child – who was fortunate enough eventually to be sent out of Suffolk because Suffolk SEND education so completely failed to provide an education for them (despite costly but unstructured, unquantified and unthought-out ‘interventions’ ).
This is not because of my personal interest but because of my understanding of the cost involved on the one hand, and the reasons for the cost on the other.
SEND covers a hugely wide range of conditions; individual schools seem to provide pretty much what education they choose to these (clearly second-class) pupils and SCC, the statutory authority for education and social care, often has to pick up the costly pieces of their cherry-picking failure. Why should this be the case?
Looking at this SEND consultation it seems that there may be a tendency to view the cost of premises and salaries as where cost-savings and rationalisation could be made. I therefore urged SCC to look at the often inappropriate delivery of SEND education itself.
For a start , why should (as ever) the needs of young people with social and behavioural problems be asked to conflict with those with health issues and cognitive deficits?
As example, my own child with a physical disability was educated away from her peers in a unit along with those with anger issues and other behavioural problems. Why? You tell me. Seemingly for the same reason as her current education establishment (a specialist college outside Suffolk dedicated to her medical condition) is conflated with PRUs in the reply box for this consultation.
(And even then, PRUs who educate short-term those who can be reintegrated into mainstream school are given the whole of Box 3 in a 3 box consultation document supposedly dealing globally with educational provision for Special Educational Needs and Disability. The disabled once again become second-rate citizens? You couldn’t make it up). It is neither fair or reasonable to either group.
So, redressing the balance and talking specifically about educating specifically disabled youngpeople – Suffolk’s continuing failure in the field of SEND teaching and curriculum delivery is expensive and an essential part of our problem. It is an area that this consultation document seemed reluctant to address.
Let us not beat about the bush – I’ve heard stories of parents who treat SEND provision as if it were ‘childcare’ but I would contend that there is a lot of Suffolk SEND provision that is arguably little better than childcare: with ‘educators’ seeing little responsibility for the future of their students; setting challenges that do not challenge and awarding gold stars and pats on the head instead of a robust and rigorously constructed syllabus looking realistically towards their future after education.
SEND education – if it is NOT to be childcare – should be looking at the longterm future of the pupil. If it is to be effective and cost-effective , it should explore possibilities of independence, expect the possibility of paid employment, work for realistic integration with employers’ needs , not be dismissive and patronising of pupils’ potential, skills, capacities. ( Here, the education, employment and discrimination sections of this blog post (click for link) although epilepsy-specific, have universal relevence. Suffolk produced a strategy document 2015-18 last October. But non-specific optimism is no good without teeth and this was toothless. Just like Suffolk’s current Inclusion and Equalities strategy which completely excludes having to contemplate the situation of all the disabled people in Suffolk and their inability to find work because they have not received adequate or even appropriate training or education (see link). Disabled people and their problems seem remarkably invisible to the policymakers of Suffolk).
Yet not educating, or mis-educating these young people is at the short- and long-term expense of the taxpayer as well as the young person. And failure to address the need of provision in-county has greater ramifications now we have a statutory duty to provide to age 25. We have an absolute need to question and query and qualitatively analyse the outcome of what is taught to young people with disabilities in the same way as we assess and monitor mainstream provision.
Will Suffolk now improve the SEND offer so that disabled young people can expect the same quality and monitoring of education as their able-bodied peers get by right? Not, you might say, a very big ask. And a damn sight cheaper ask then sending them out of county, like nineteenth century black sheep to the colonies.
We wait for the next stage of the consultation to see whether these issues have been taken on board.
Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge