Petition against rural transport signed by 5,500

Campaign against changes to community transport in Suffolk. ANL-160125-173713001
Campaign against changes to community transport in Suffolk. ANL-160125-173713001

The county council Labour Group handed over its petition against changes to Suffolk’s Community Transport services on Friday.

With 5,5000 signatures collected from across Suffolk, the Labour Group, supported by local campaigners, say they acquired a ‘better gauge of public opinion’ on the planned changes than the Conservative Suffolk County Council cabinet had.

The cuts will see funding cut by 10 per cent a year over the next five years, with one tender taking responsibility for each district in the county.

In the Babergh district Hadleigh Community Transport has been awarded the tender, subcontracting to GoStart for the Sudbury area.

The county council is also looking to sell its fleet of minibuses, with some groups now having to find funding for their own vehicles.

Petition organiser and Labour Group spokesperson for transport, Sandra Gage, said: “The ‘New Model’ was pushed through by a Conservative cabinet without consulting existing passengers, disability groups, or listening to the concerns raised by transport providers themselves and cross party county councillors.

“The undeniable fact is, with the drastic 50 per cent cut and the sale of the council’s fleet of minibuses – which are loaned to smaller providers at a reasonable price – community transport services will dwindle and disappear.”

South Suffolk activist, Rickaby Shearly-Sanders, who collected several hundred signatures from the Hadleigh area added: “I got involved in this campaign because I believe that you really can’t undersell the value of community transport.

“Recently, I was in Shotley on a Sunday and on my way back to my home in Hadleigh, I saw a community operated minibus picking up some kids – on a day when no other commercial bus was running, community transport was there plugging the gap.

“Suffolk County Council needs to start thinking outside the box when it comes to rural transport, but their attitude to community transport shows that they just aren’t thinking.”

Mrs Gage said: “I’m happy to announce the Labour Group has put forward a motion for next full council calling for the reversal of the planned 50 per cent cut and retention of the minibus fleet.

“This petition, taken from hundreds of parishes across the county, with over half of Suffolk parishes represented, is truly a county-wide consultation.

“Its 5,500 signatures will serve as food for thought among the ruling Conservative Group ahead of the next full council meeting on March 17.

“It clearly demonstrates that the planned ‘New Model’ for rural community transport is not popular among many of the county’s rural communities.”

The Labour group say the decision to change the community bus provision from a grant aided service to a commercial tendered contract is opposed by a number of parties, including Conservative backbenchers.

“When it comes to full council, I urge all councillors, regardless of political affiliation, to acknowledge this petition and vote to reverse these changes,” said Mrs Gage.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: “We can confirm the petition has been handed in and it will be discussed at full council on March 17.”