Today, Suffolk County Council Cabinet ignored their democratic duty to reconsider their decision to implement a “New Model” for Suffolk Rural Community Transport provision. The Scrutiny Committees concerns were not discussed and the Cabinet immediately voted in favour of their original decision.
The proposed “New Model” advocates changes to the tendering process for community transport in Suffolk’s rural areas, and entails a drastic 50% reduction in funding over 5 years. Meeting on the 2nd October and receiving cross-party support, the Scrutiny Committee voted in favour of referring the decision back to Cabinet for further deliberation on the grounds that there had been no public consultation process and that an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) was flawed. The Cabinet disregarded Scrutiny’s referral without debate.
Labour Spokesperson for Roads, Transport & Planning, Cllr Sandra Gage, commented, “Most important are the real concerns regarding the future of community transport services in Suffolk’s rural areas. It is feared that this provision could simply disappear. By refusing to discuss it, the Conservatives disregard the needs of Suffolk people in more isolated areas”.
Labour Group Leader, Cllr Sandy Martin said “The Conservative Administration’s shocking dismissal of the democratic process flies in the face of their claim of being a ‘transparent’ Council”.
“The Conservative Cabinet’s behaviour will not be ignored – the Labour Group will be taking this to a higher authority in order to bring this practice under review.”
Labour Groups Questions:
Questions to Cllr Finch re Call-in of Community Transport Tenders
1) Do you know roughly how many people are using Community Transport, and where, and how many of them are disabled?
2) In what way can an EIA be of any value when you don’t know who will be affected, or what level of service reduction they will be affected by?
3) If you don’t know what the level of service is now, how will you know whether it has been maintained, improved or reduced as a result of your tender process?
4) Will you now take the time to consult with users and providers in order to establish a proper baseline against which you can measure whether the service is maintained BEFORE you go through the tender process?
5) Do you accept some providers’ view that they were summonsed to a meeting to be told what was happening but were not actually asked either for their views or for their judgement of the likely consequences of your actions? – and if I may quote from Radio Suffolk this morning “If it reduces the funds to the level they’re suggesting I don’t know what sort of service we’ll be able to provide, because we are dependent on that grant…….We’re certainly not going to get the money we need from fares.”
6) On p.91 it states “This decision will affect all local communities in Suffolk and all individuals who currently use community transport services and Suffolk Link services.” A service user was asked on Radio Suffolk how not being consulted made her feel. She replied “Angry. Very angry.” Do you then not agree, Cllr Finch, that a proper consultation of the service users is not only necessary, but politically advisable?”
7) Did you at any stage consider using some of the surplus from the On-street Parking Fund in order to support Community Transport – which is one of the uses which it is supposed to be for – and if you were to do so do you not think you would be able to attract more realistic bids for the services?
8) If, after you have gone through the tender process, the only bids on offer are to provide a massively reduced level of service, will you accept one of those bids or will you bring the issue back to Cabinet?