Suffolk: Anger as debate over free bus passes is halted
OPPOSITION councillors and disability campaigners were left furious after Suffolk County Council’s cabinet confirmed its controversial time limit on free bus passes for people with disabilities without a debate.
The issue was on the agenda at yesterday’s cabinet meeting after a previous decision was referred back by the council’s scrutiny committee.
However the debate on the previous item had taken longer than expected to discuss – and the councillor with responsibility for transport, Guy McGregor, had another vital meeting to attend.
So after outlining the council’s legal position and a brief speech from fellow cabinet member Colin Noble, council leader Mark Bee called for a vote on the issue.
Normally other councillors, including opposition members, would be able to speak before the vote was taken.
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The whole item was dealt with by the cabinet in less than 15 minutes.
A furious Labour Group leader Sandy Martin said: “Why have I come here? I had no chance to raise my concern.”
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And official opposition leader David Wood from the Liberal Democrats was seething: “I am disgusted by what happened here today. I expected better of them.
“It shows contempt for democracy. We had a number of items we wanted to raise and were prevented from saying anything.”
Linda Hoggarth from Optua Training which works with people with disabilities said she felt she had been cheated out of having a say on the issue.
She said: “I contacted the committee clerk and was told to put my concerns to my councillor. I talked to him, and although he was unable to come today, he passed my questions to David Wood who was going to raise them.
“I’ve wasted my time coming here today.”
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council, said: “Today cabinet was asked to decide on the future of the concessionary travel scheme based on additional information gathered since it was last considered.
“The key question was whether or not they felt able to make a decision in light of this new information. They felt they were.
“No one has been denied an opportunity to influence the decision because this issue has been through full council, cabinet and scrutiny, and subject to a public consultation, in the last 17 months.
“Indeed many councillors and services users used these opportunities to make their views know. They were all taken into consideration when making this difficult final decision.”
The vote by the committee means that people with disabilities will continue to only be able to use their free bus passes on services after 9.30am.