Shadow Cabinet MP joins protest against community transport cuts

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

Campaigners met in Hadleigh today to protest against ‘damaging’ changes to community transport by Suffolk County Council.

In July the all-Conservative cabinet at Suffolk County Council proposed a new commercial tender to replace all community transport buses.

In October this was passed by the cabinet despite much opposition from other county councillors and community bus providers and users.

In protest of this Daniel Zeichner MP Labour shadow minister for public transport joined councillors, residents, transport providers and users in Hadleigh to make a stand asking for the decision to reconsidered and to be taken to full council for all councillors to have their say.

The new contract will see seven five-year contracts, one for each district council area.

In the Babergh area Hadleigh Community Transport has taken on the franchise with Go START acting as a sub-contractor for the Sudbury area.

The changes have come as the council’s funding for community transport reduces from £1.4million to £0.7million.

Campaigners fear this will leave parts of Suffolk with a reduced or no bus service.

Labour Suffolk county councillor Sandra Gage is leading a campaign against the changes, believing the council to be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

She says they have failed to seek the views of vulnerable and disabled users of Community Transport, and that the Council’s own Equality Impact Assessment conclusion was wrong to say there would be no planned reduction in the level of service and no impact on any residents.

“The contracts clearly state that the council’s daily fare recharge rates to the operator will decline from £140 per day to £90 per day over the five years,” she said.

“In real terms this cut will be even greater than it looks, and the bus operator will be supposed to find other funding to meet the shortfall - or cut the service.”

The cuts come as Government funding for local councils for public transport has been cut by 28 per cent in the past five years.

Mrs Gage said that community transport had been proven to reduce the effects of loneliness, isolation, and improve health and wellbeing.

Jane Basham, vice chair of South Suffolk Labour Party, added: “In Hadleigh there has already been a destruction in general public transport.

“Community transport is often the only option for elderly and disabled people.

“It allows them to get to places, groups, clubs and to doctors and hospital appointments.

“There was no consultation which is just appalling. A lot of the users didn’t even know about the changes.”

John Phillips, chairman of Go START, previously said he couldn’t see any chance the group continuing if the changes went ahead.

Today he told the Free Press: “I won’t say there is no chance of it not continuing.

“It will be incredibly difficult, putting the entire service at risk.”

As part of the cuts the county council also plans to sell off its minibus fleet.

Many of the current community transport groups that use the vehicles will now have to find funding to hire or purchase their own vehicles.

The ‘Save Our Community Transport’ petition has almost 4,000 signatures online.

You can view the petition at www.change.org/p/suffolk-county-council-save-our-community-transport.