Political tempers flare as debate curtailed

Community transport, like Dial a Ride, faces financial cuts.

Community transport, like Dial a Ride, faces financial cuts. - Credit: Contributed

Funding for on-demand transport in Suffolk is to be cut in half – but there was a furious reaction after the Conservative cabinet at the county council ruled out any new debate on the subject.

The original proposal to halve the budget to a service that provided more than 125,000 journeys across the county last year was referred back to the cabinet by the council’s scrutiny committee over fears that not enough consultation had been carried out.

However yesterday’s cabinet meeting decided to accept the original report and to go ahead with the cuts without any debate – provoking anger from Labour opposition leader Sandy Martin.

He said: “The Conservative Administration’s shocking dismissal of the democratic process flies in the face of their claim of being a ‘transparent’ Council.

“The Conservative cabinet’s behaviour will not be ignored – the Labour Group will be taking this to a higher authority in order to bring this practice under review.”

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He had wanted to raise eight matters with the cabinet asking for details about how the decision was reached. A spokesman for the council said they would be replying to Mr Martin with responses to his questions.

Cabinet member for transport James Finch said: “This is a hugely important issue, and one on which councillors have had a full and transparent debate, both at the cabinet meeting on 15th September and then at the Scrutiny Committee meeting on 2nd October.”

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He said two technical points had been raised at the scrutiny meeting.

“At today’s cabinet meeting, my colleagues on the Cabinet and I recognised those concerns, but were reassured by the response to those concerns contained in the paper, and which I re-stated carefully at the meeting.

“As a result, they were happy to re-affirm the process by which they made their decision. That is what today’s meeting was all about.”

The decision means that the amount spent on on-demand transport will fall from £1.4m a year to £700,000 a year within the next five years.

The service will be re-drawn so there will be one operator covering an entire district or borough, reducing the number of contracts from 14 to seven.

And operators will be expected to provide their own vehicles – at present the council provides vehicles which are used by individual operators.

Opposition councillors insist that services will suffer – but the administration says there should be the same number of services for less cost.

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