Bus services across Suffolk are vital for many to maintain an independent life. On Wednesday it was Stowupland losing its bus service, in recent weeks we have heard of reduced services in Beccles, Sudbury, Stowmarket, Kesgrave, Martlesham, and as many as six routes coming into Ipswich.
But what are the County Council Conservatives doing? The message is at best muddled, at worst nothing. The County’s just released Annual Public Health Report shows the link between a healthy lifestyle and the use of sustainable transport. 2 out of 5 jobseekers say lack of transport is a barrier to getting a job. 6% of 16-24year olds turn down training or further education because of transport limitations. Many older residents become socially isolated and less independent. The report, recommending greater investment in sustainable transport, was warmly welcomed at last Thursday’s Council by all parties.
And yet at the same meeting the Conservative Cabinet Member for Roads and Transport was unable to offer any funding when I asked ‘What is the County Council response to replacing lost bus services?’ He cited the cost of concessionary fares as preventing him from finding the money to fund replacement bus services across Suffolk. This is not, of course, entirely true. With the Council’s useable reserves now almost £200 million; there clearly are the funds to address the loss of bus services in Suffolk, if the County Council wanted to.
And for students, at the same meeting last week, fellow Labour Councillors asked about the take up of the Council’s new student travel card – the Endeavour card. Only 2,200 students have applied, compared to the 28,000 using the previous discontinued student eXplore card. And for those students living in Stowupland, wanting to travel to Suffolk New College it will be completely valueless without the bus service with which to use it. And while the Conservatives may say they are funding concessionary fares, these are also of no value to older residents if the bus service has been cut.
There is a solution. In June Ipswich Borough Council used its funds to support or replace bus services that have been changed or lost in the town. Suffolk towns and villages ought to be able to expect the County Council to do as much for them.
I look forward, with interest, to how the County Council will meet the recommendations of the 2013 Suffolk Public Health Report for greater use of sustainable transport, to encourage a healthier lifestyle given their contradictory stance on bus funding and in doing so failing to offer the vital services many, including Stowupland, need.
Sandra Gage, Roads and Transport Spokesperson for the Labour Group