Update January 2013:
For the last 18 months my Lib Dem colleagues and I have been trying to increase SCC’s 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 it turned out, 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. 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.
Since April 2011, those people in Suffolk entitled to use concessionary travel passes by virtue of age or disability have suffered a reduction in the terms and conditions of these passes and can no longer use them before 9.30 on weekdays.
This impacts on 140,000 people – just under 7,000 of whom require the pass on the grounds of disability. This situation is causing genuine hardship to people who often have few -if any -alternatives.
At the July 14 meeting of full council I proposed a motion on behalf of the Lib Dems asking SCC’s Cabinet to take account of the hardship being caused and revisit their decision :
i) recommending that those pass holders eligible due to age, shall be able to travel using their passes from 9 o’clock throughout the week,
ii) and removing all time limitations on buses for those pass holders eligible due to disability.
There was a lot of support for this from members of all parties, as it is clear that the harmful effects were no respecters of political alliegiance!So the motion was passed with none opposing, and only one abstention. You can find my account of the meeting here. We expect Cabinet to look at this in the autumn, hopefully at their October meeting
In the interim I have been asked by representatives of various disability , carer and other organisations and advocacy groups whether there is a petition that their members can sign. I have therefore set one up online at the Suffolk County Council e-petition site.
If it isn’t there, don’t despair – ihis might take a day or two to become live. For those who prefer to sign paper copies, please download and print out the following: