June 19 2013 Latest news:
By Paul Geater
Thursday, September 27, 2012
SUFFOLK’S cabinet is to look again at the decision to reduce the hours that older people and those with disabilities can use their free bus passes.
The county council’s scrutiny committee decided to refer the decision back to the cabinet after it heard there were concerns about the level of consultation before the decision was made.
Until April last year the concessionary fare scheme was administered by district and borough councils.
Although the government agreed to cover the cost of “off peak” bus travel – after 9.30am – the councils in Suffolk decided the passes could be used on all bus services.
However from April last year the county took over the administration of the passes and as part of its cost-cutting measures decided they should only be valid after 9.30am.
In July last year a motion was debated at full council calling for the limit for passes issued because of age to become valid from 9am and for those who were issued with a pass because of their disability the time restriction would be abolished altogether.
It was argued that many of those with disabilities could not drive and the abolition of free passes on early morning buses effectively barred them from the labour market.
There was a further debate at the county’s cabinet in July this year which backed the tighter restrictions, but the issue was referred back to the council’s scrutiny committee by Liberal Democrat councillors David Wood and Caroline Page because they were unhappy about the level of consultation.
Before the issue was debated at this week’s scrutiny meeting members of the public including Linda Hoggarth, who represents people with disabilities across Suffolk.
She said she represented groups which looked after issues facing 75,000 people – and they had not been consulted before the decisions had been taken.
Ms Page told the meeting that the argument about cost did not stack up because the county had budgeted £8.6 million for concessionary fares but had only spent £7.8 million. However county council transport spokesman Guy McGregor insisted this did not mean the money was available: “We budgeted for the worst case – if the weather had been good we would have needed to spend more.”