Labour Group fights for Rural Transport

The Labour Group at Suffolk County Council has successfully called-in a Cabinet decision to implement a “New Model” for Rural & Community Transport in Suffolk.

The model in question, which advocates changes to the tendering process for community transport in Suffolk’s more isolated areas, and entails a drastic 50% reduction in funding over 5 years, was unanimously backed by the Conservative Cabinet on the 15th September – and called-in by the Labour Group less than 24 hours later.

Cllr Sandra Gage, spokesperson for Roads, Transport and Planning, who is proposing this call-in, said: “Whilst the Labour Group welcomes the proposal to move away from annual grants to Community Transport Operators, this proposal fails to recognise the fragility of the service, and its limitations in serving all potential users. The basis for the cabinet’s decision to back this so-called “New Model” is about the County Council making further cuts to funding rural transport, not about the needs of the passengers, or about the concerns already raised by the Operators themselves. There has been absolutely zero effort to engage the people that use these services, who are often elderly and vulnerable people, through a public consultation process, which we believe is in breach of the Equality Act 2010.”

Sandra continued “The potential impact on the service that either the change in tendering process or harsh reduction in funding will have is at no point considered by the Cabinet. Although it is assumed that alternative sources of funds will be found to help meet the shortfall, they are never specific. Presumably the Council is expecting Community Transport providers to fund-raise to cover the Tory cut or cut services”

“Such a radical shake-up of this important service cannot be half-baked or rushed and that is exactly what is happening here.”

The ‘call-in’ effectively halts  this decision until it can be discussed at Scrutiny Committee, with the possibility that it could go back to Cabinet, or even be discussed at Full Council if the committee votes in favour of the call-in.

The call in will be discussed at Scrutiny Committee on the Friday 2nd October from 10am and is open to the public.

Reasons for Call-In:

  • There has been no consultation process with rural and community Transport users, with particular regard to vulnerable and disabled users, in breach of the Equality Act 2010.  Therefore, Cabinet do not have sufficient information to be able to take a viable decision
  • The EIA used in the decision making process to highlight the impact of proposed changes on the user looks at organisational/structural reforms to transport provision in Suffolk, but does not take in to account the effect or impact of the proposed 50% reduction in budget.
  • The Tender process, beginning in April 2016, has been very poorly timed, as it will not be able to take account of the Total Transport research that is looking at customer need verses transport provided.
  • Going out to tender now on a district based split takes no account of other planned council and government changes. More importantly, it also does not take in to account Suffolk’s devolution bid or the buses bill, either of which could make a five year contract immediately out of date and out of touch with changes to service delivery.
  • Delegation inappropriate until an outline of the level of service provision is known – recommendations as they stand enable director/cabinet members to go ahead and award a contract on any level of service including a massively-reduced level.
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