Sandra Gage’s Speech on Highways and Transport during Budget debate

For the last six years there has been year on year cuts to County services in Suffolk, justified as ‘efficiency savings’, ‘transforming services’, ‘refocusing’, or simply saying the council will be doing ‘more for less’.

Year on year we stand here and say this is wrong, it will not work, or simply that your budget cuts will increase the gap between those who can afford to pay themselves for what the council no longer provides, and those who cannot.

Highways and public transport budget cuts are not as life threatening as those imposed on, say social care, but they are life changing.

They will alter people’s futures permanently, by having to make less advantageous choices on education, living standards, work, where to live, and ultimately longevity of life. Using this administrations words, these cuts have indeed ‘managed down demand’ of the future of those who have to rely on public transport to achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves.

The dismantling of public transport and decreasing investment in our infrastructure will, in the end, cost us all far more than this council has cut in these areas in its annual budgets since 2011.

So, we propose a reversal of the cuts to the services that support the most basic needs of Suffolk residents, to provide a life line by the;

  • Reinstatement of printed bus timetables countywide
  • Continued investment of Real Time bus screens in remote urban areas where there remains poor mobile phone coverage that denies bus users access to smart phone bus apps.
  • An enhancement to the countywide district council budget to cut highway verge and hedges – so that road safety is no longer put at risk by this council, and the disabled are able to use unobstructed footways
  • Reinstatement of the 2015/16 baseline funding to Community transport providers, ensuring the scheduled buses services can continue without cuts.
  • And,for our three main towns, a programme of capital investment, raised bus stops to aid the less mobile and new bus shelters to encourage greater bus patronage, and a modest but much needed capital programme of cycle and pedestrian schemes to aid healthier lifestyles and keep our towns moving.

The Labour Group’s Amendment proposes to make Ipswich Park and Ride genuinely viable under its new contract.

Any responsible highway authority knows that Park and Ride is part of a package of measures to manage traffic congestion at peak times in towns and cities. You can’t simply ‘change the grant offer’ as the Transport Cabinet Member will surely call it, though it is of course a funding cut, and expect service to survive.  The proposed withdrawal of subsidy and the omission of any funding to improve the Park and Ride sends Ipswich residents a clear message from this council.

This Council really doesn’t care if Ipswich streets are clogged up commuting traffic each weekday, so long as there is more money in reserves.

So much for this Tory led council being signed up to an ‘Ipswich Vision’.

The Labour amendment proposes a Revenue Enhancement to maintain Park & Ride services during a transition period, a two year capital investment to implement the highway improvements identified by the bus operators as necessary to make the new contract viable, and a modest fund to market and a modest marketing fund.

This is what a responsible highway authority should do to protect its county town from unsustainable traffic growth.

And finally, on the subject of the Ipswich Cattlemarket bus station toilets, despite my repeated questioning, the administration has remained silent on whether there has ever been was any financial provision for the toilets.  But then, as we know, none of them travel into Ipswich by bus, so haven’t any idea of how important this is.

Not so much for Ipswich residents, but for the many rural Suffolk residents (residents from their own divisions) who bus into town, and arrive after up to maybe an hour’s journey at the Cattlemarket station.

This Tory council has stubbornly refused for three years, even refusing the repeated demands of the Women’s Institute, to see sense.

Labour will find the money in its budget to install the toilets, to accept Ipswich Borough Council generous offer to maintain and in doing so respond, as a responsible council should do, to significant and justified public demand.

The sustainability of the county relies upon a road network that is at an acceptable standard. That’s why we have included a reinstatement in the cuts to Capital investment in our road network.

The Highways Infrastructure Asset Management Plan has consigned our non-strategic local roads to a future of neglect, to becoming a patchwork of temporary asphalt dollops, and occasional localised permanent repair.

We all know of roads like this all over the county.

Labour’s proposal will enable a programme of responsible structural maintenance on local roads countywide.

Chair, I fully support the budget amendment.

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