Tag Archives: Explore card

Suffolk Young Person’s Travel Card: “I’ll be back!”

The Suffolk Explore card, cut by the Conservatives  in haste, and apparently now repented at leisure

Wow!

Today Suffolk County Council bite the bullet and announce that they’re planning a new discount travel card for young people in Suffolk  “in a bid to remove transport barriers for young people across the county” as the Cabinet Member for Transport so disingenuously puts it.

Yes that’s right. Although the press release doesn’t mention it this is the very same Cabinet member who abolished the Explore young persons discount travel card  in April 2011 halfway through the academic year. By doing this he knowingly placed huge – in some cases insurmountable – transport barriers  between  opportunities for employment and education and  a whole cohort of Suffolk’s young people.

Once again we are back in TopsyTurveyland.

When the Explore card was cut in 2011 (as part of the New Strategic Direction ideology and supposedly on grounds of ‘cost), the Liberal Democrats warned that it was a terrible thing to do in a rural county at a time of economic instability and would cause significant damage to the educational, work and training prospects of the 55000 young people who used it.  And it did.

And the Conservatives heard full details directly from Suffolk Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from thousands of the young people affected .We all told them  that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job –with huge longterm implications for Suffolk’s budget.  But the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport memorably replied, “you can’t spend a pound more than once.’

In that year SCC underspent by £13m of our pounds – enough to fund the Explore card many many times over . 

As academic standards in Suffolk have slipped and more and more young people became NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) it seems that the point has finally got across.  Thank goodness the Conservatives are now prepared to make a U-turn before they cause any further damage, even if they can’t bring themselves to admit that this is what they are doing.

Bringing back this card is obviously a successful outcome for the Suffolk Liberal Democrats ‘ work, and, more importantly, for all the young people and their families who have been lobbying for the restoration of this card since it was withdrawn. Yet we are left looking at the damage caused in the last two years and wondering why it has it taken so long for the Conservatives to admit it.  Why on earth didn’t they review the Explore card costs rather than cutting it completely- as they did – and leaving many young people struggling to get to college and employment?

Let’s be frank: young people’s travel is an issue that should have been extremely important throughout the years, and not just when the Conservatives are looking at the May elections!  The cynical opportunism of the entire exercise is breathtaking!!

Explore - kidsand banners (532x800)

SCC: where does their “Interest” lie?

 At their last Cabinet meeting SCC’s Tories revealed that they had underspent a total of £13.1m in the last financial year. Much of this money is going into the already large reserves (now standing at £158m).

Yes, you heard me right.

At a time of huge financial stress when we need to make best use of every penny, they quite unnecessarily took more than £13m from our hard-pressed services and entrusted it to the banks

They must be the last people left in the country who have any faith left in bankers.

And they put their trust in the banking system at a time when public money is desperately needed to support the local economy. When the community is reeling under the impact of lost public services .

The Conservative administration has told us they’ve cut these services because they were unaffordable. This is how they have justified the huge damage that they have inflicted on Suffolk’s public transport – by tellling us that  “you can’t spend a pound more than once,”(as the Cabinet member responsible has told us rather more than once).

Now it seems clear that the Cabinet just doesn’t want to spend some of these (our) pounds at all.

We live in a time where belt-tightening may be unavoidable, but it is clear that the Conservatives’ cutting has been overly-enthusiastic.  The money they have put into low-interest reserves could better be spent on restoring such valued and socially valuable services as the eXplore youth travel Card, our closed Household Waste Recycling Centres, the Bury Road Park and Ride, many axed bus routes, and those essential and valued walk-in Youth clubs (so useful for those who cannot afford subscription activities) as well as improving the bus pass conditions for Suffolk elderly and disabled.

These were all services that my colleagues and I argued to reinstate at Budget time, but it fell on deaf ears.  More than deaf ears – as I recall, the Leader suggested our budget had been ‘scribbled on the back of a fag packet.’

Better than on the front of a paying-in slip, Cllr Bee!

Suffolk County’s Conservatives would much rather invest our money in banks than in the people of Suffolk – preferring to build up capital than to build social capital.

 

“Attention – this policy is reversing!” U-turn on young people’s travel

Hurrah – direct action and real democracy has finally paid off.

Yesterday – fifteen months after their short-sighted,  mean-minded and pennypinching  abolition of Suffolk’s Explore young person’s travelcard (halfway through the academic year, let me remind you!) –  the Conservatives on Suffolk County Council have announced a U-turn.   SCC will now be developing  an Oyster-type card “to help provide reduced travel costs for education, training and work-related travel” for young people, because – as Leader Mark Bee acknowledged -travel is such a problem for young people in our rural county.

As my son would say, no shit, Sherlock!

What Cllr Bee says is perfectly true. But it  is  hardly news. It’s now exactly a year since the County Council received that  6,000 signature petition and the personal representations from a huge range of people (including some very vocal, determined – and polite – members of Woodbridge’s Just 42) telling them just this!

When  the Conservatives originally argued the necessity of the Explore  cut on the grounds of cost, they were too shortsighted to recognise the costly damage it would cause to the educational, work and training prospects of a whole cohort of young people.  This harm was clear to anyone who looked at the facts rather than the ideology of the New Strategic Direction.  Indeed, in the middle of last year the Conservatives heard this information directly from me and other Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from the young people affected.

We all told the Conservatives that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job.  But -as the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport so memorably said -“you can’t spend a pound more than once.”   In such  circumstances, the wise idea is to choose carefully what you do spend your pounds on in the first place. This was the same Cabinet that agreed the expenditure of really quite a lot of pounds on Suffolk Circle.

Thursday’s announcement is welcome news – but sadly it is too late for some.  And the current announcement – despite the fanfare – is currently limited to Ipswich.Yet  Scrutiny established  at the end of last year that the young people living in Ipswich remained  best supported by bus services after the Explore cut. It was those in the rural parts of Suffolk – those with large distances to travel and no access to cars or petrol -who were most badly affected.

Now that this decision has been made, I urge the council to go beyond spin on this occasion and to roll out this new Oyster-type scheme as quickly as possible. We we need to reverse, wherever possible,  the harm they have caused and are continuing to cause to the next generation of Suffolk!