Row could cost taxpayers £100,000

SUFFOLK'S revolutionary new youth card could have to be pulped after a legal argument with Britain's biggest indoor ski slope.And that could cost council taxpayers in the county a total of more than £100,000 – for a scheme the incoming administration has never been keen on in the first place!However members of the former Labour-led administration at Endeavour House have branded the Tory group's claims as "absolute garbage" and accused them of using the dispute as an excuse to kill off the card.

SUFFOLK'S revolutionary new youth card could have to be pulped after a legal argument with Britain's biggest indoor ski slope.

And that could cost council taxpayers in the county a total of more than £100,000 – for a scheme the incoming administration has never been keen on in the first place!

However members of the former Labour-led administration at Endeavour House have branded the Tory group's claims as "absolute garbage" and accused them of using the dispute as an excuse to kill off the card.

The latest problem has emerged just days after the county admitted to wasting £18,000 of taypayers' money by installing traffic calming on the old A45 at Nacton which has had to be removed because of Suffolk Show traffic.

A row has now blown up over the Xcape card, which has been distributed to secondary school pupils across the county and is available for everyone in Suffolk under 20-years-old.

It offers half price travel on all trains and buses within the county and on some train services to other destinations.

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However the county has received a letter from the operators of the Xscape snowdome in Milton Keynes warning the name could cause confusion and claiming they had copyright on it.

There have been claims that Xscape's interest was stirred because it is considering entering a partnership with the developers of the SnOasis project at Great Blakenham and they feared the names could confuse customers.

New council leader Jeremy Pembroke was furious about the situation that had developed.

He said: "We always said the previous administration had rushed through the introduction of this card and now it's becoming clear that we were right in that.

"Now we are faced with re-issuing the cards and relaunching the whole thing. That could cost a six-figure sum, in the region of £100,000."

He denied that the Conservatives were looking to use the controversy as a way of scrapping the card altogether.

Mr Pembroke said: "We will be looking at the take-up of the card and how popular it has been towards the end of the year and at that time we might review its operation.

"This has nothing to do with that – but we cannot ignore the situation that has blown up."

However Labour councillor Kevan Lim dismissed the Conservative claims.

He said: "They are talking absolute garbage. The name isn't the same, and we employed an agency to check all the names we could use.

"Xcape is a name used by other council's – especially Surrey County Council – and frankly they should have fought this."

Mr Lim was suspicious about the timing of the problem. "We launched the card in February and it isn't until a few days after the election in May that this problem comes to light.

"That's a bit of a coincidence. I think the only reason Xscape has become involved is because of Great Blakenham," he said.

A spokeswoman for Xscape said that company had no connection with SnOasis and had no interest in the Suffolk site.

However any infringement of Copyright would be dealt with firmly and would be dealt with by their legal representatives.

The Xcape card has been very popular among youngsters who have been issued with it.

Northgate High School pupil Philip Townley, 12, uses it to travel to school from the town centre every day – and also for the discounts it offers elsewhere.

He said: "I really like it, it's very useful. If there is a problem I hope it doesn't stop the card being available."

And 16-year-old St Albans pupil Matt Kerr, from Hadleigh, was also very keen on the card: "It's very useful for all kinds of things – whatever the problem I hope they soon sort it out," he said.

Xcape – vs – Xscape:

Xcape is a student and young person's discount card.

It offers half price fares on almost all adult bus fares in Suffolk.

All Ipswich Buses and First Eastern Counties buses in Ipswich have a flat fare of 40p single, 80p return.

It gives half-price off peak rail travel on all services within Suffolk and to and from Manningtree, Diss, Thetford, Haddiscoe and Bures.

There are also discounts available from some shops and leisure centres – for details see www.xcape.org.uk

Xscape is the trading name of Britain's biggest indoor snowdome operator, based at Milton Keynes and with another indoor ski slope at Pontefract in Yorkshire.

It is run by entrepreneur PY Gerbeau, who hit the headlines as boss of the Millennium Dome.

It plans to open its third centre in Glasgow next year.

As well as in the indoor ski slope, Xscape centres also include bowling lanes, restaurants, and cinemas.

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