Year on year this council has repeatedly cut budgets rather than maintain transport services. To a point where some services have disappeared altogether. Suffolk is predominately a rural county and its transport links are essential for education, work, growing the economy. Indeed the sustainability of Suffolk itself relies upon regular public transport and a road network that is at an acceptable standard. The Administration’s budget today will not deliver either.
The Labour Group’s Amendment proposes the protection of Ipswich Park and Ride. Park and Ride buses are not about making a profit; it is rare that any across the country offer a funding stream. They are part of a package of measures to manage traffic congestion at peak times in towns and cities. The threat of closure to both Ipswich P & R’s in two years sends Ipswich residents a clear message from this council. It says Suffolk Conservatives are happy to see 600 extra vehicles clogging up the towns roads each day, simply to put more money in reserves. So much for this Tory led council being signed up to an ‘Ipswich Vision’.
Our amendment proposes the reinstatement of funds, and in addition the investment of £10,000 to from OSPA reserves to explore ways to enhance Ipswich Park and Ride.
For all other public bus services, our amendment is about maintaining the local, subsidised bus services, that the young and old rely upon to live independently. To reassure the disabled and less mobile that their community bus will still be able to pick them up every week. This is not reckless spending, it’s an investment. At a time when government research, cross party parliamentary groups and respected transport campaign groups are all concluding that investment in rural transport returns £5 to the local economy for every £1 invested, this Tory Council is reducing its investment. The message is clear; if you are on too low an income, are disabled, or too old to drive, do not rely upon this Tory council to support you to live in rural Suffolk. We propose to reverse the cuts to post 16 and subsidised public transport, to give the young, old and most vulnerable in our communities the certainty of regular bus services. And in doing so, invest in the economic future of rural Suffolk.
Turning to capital spending, and the maintenance of our road network, I doubt anyone here will disagree with me, when I say Suffolk is not in a good place on its road maintenance performance. So you would think this council would at least maintain its budget but instead the Tories propose a cut of £5million/year from next year from its own funding of road maintenance.
We suggest reinstating some of these cuts, with £2million / year put back to ensure there is adequate investment to our roads back to an adequate condition, proactive rather than reactive maintenance as the public has been asking for.
Let me be clear, this is not a pro-car message; this is about tackling accessibility, a decent road network to serve communities. Bus routes are the first to crumble, if the roads are left unmaintained. And where there are cycle and footway links in very poor condition, there should be funding to do more than temporary, often frankly very temporary, repairs. Our proposal is to listen to the public concerns, and address the decline in our road network to support better public and sustainable transport.
And finally, the On Street Parking Account. Annually left underspent by £ hundreds of thousands, it is frequently now used to backfill reduced budgets for all manner of highway works. Our proposals are to use just £500,000 to support bus and environment projects in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.
This is not an irresponsible alternative budget, it has been researched, proposing a sustainable, modest spend targeting services that will have most impact. Chair, I fully support the amendment and look to other political groups to do the same.