The Conservative Cabinet at Suffolk County Council have once more decided to ride roughshod over the needs of vulnerable people in the County. The Lib Dem group at Suffolk County Council has been fighting for the rights of disabled and older people to regain the ability to travel free of charge before 9.30am. Before Suffolk County Council took over the administration of concessionary passes in April 2011, the Borough and District councils in Suffolk had placed no time restriction on travel.
The ruling Conservatives failed to carry out a full equality impact assessment when they restricted travel and groups representing disabled people were not consulted. Understandably they are very upset. So upset that they have contacted the Equality and Human Rights Commission who have written to the council saying that their equality impact procedure is in need of considerable improvement. It even hints that the County Council’s decision making procedure may be unlawful. They have asked that the decision made today should be sent to them without delay.
The consultation launched in late October allowed only 12 days to submit responses. The Royal National Institute for the Blind pointed out that this was totally inadequate. The RNIB had previously challenged Norfolk County Council, who have now changed their policy for people with visual impairments. And what about people with learning disabilities who have to get to work before 9.30am? Numbers are small and it would surely cost very little to allow them to travel free at any time. It would make a huge difference to those who need to travel to work or training each day. The council has already allocated suffocient funds in its budget and it could trial the scheme for 6 months or a year and then review the cost. Other councils in the East of England already operate schemes for their concessionary pass holders without any time restrictions. Hertfordshire is one of those councils. Why don’t they ask them how much it costs instead of making wild and overinflated predictions?
All we asked was that over 60s pass holders be allowed to travel from 9am. In some villages buses only run every two hours and the first bus they can use free of charge is after 11am, including Copdock and Washbrook in my Division. We also asked that disabled bus pass holders be allowed to travel without restriction, as they had done prior to April last year.
There was also no specific question in the County Council’s consultation about access to medical facilities, for example, hospital and GP appointments. This is a known problem where patients have early appointments and I have no confidence that anything will be done to improve this.
The crazy thing is that the Tories are underspent on the budget for concessionary fares. They clearly lack the will to do anything about the additonal cost their inflexible policy is imposing on people on low incomes, in spite of pretending to be on the side of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. They should be ashamed of themselves.