ATOS Demonstration – WFGP Attend

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Five members of Wyre Forest Green Party joined about two dozen other demonstrators to protest against ATOS in Worcester on Wednesday, February 19th.

Activists from across Herefordshire and Worcestershire assembled outside the ATOS assessment centre in Farrier Street and then marched to Worcester Bridge and the Guildhall.

ATOS is employed by the government to carry out “fitness for work” tests on disabled benefit claimants and is directly responsible for causing stress and misery for thousands of vulnerable people across the country.

The heartless decisions of ATOS have led to thousands of untimely deaths and many victims of Work Capability Assessments have taken their own lives.

The protest was part of a national day of action against ATOS to highlight the crime of allowing a private company to make profit out of human suffering. WFGP member

Louise Ryan, who is a wheelchair user, made a speech outside the assessment centre in which she spoke of the fear of living under the shadow of an ATOS assessment and called on the company to stop persecuting disabled people.

ATOS have since asked the Government to be released from their contract early. The key for the Green Party is making sure that the type of assessment regime the current Government utilise is scrapped once and for all as it has no place in a compassionate society. The Government should be clamping down on tax dodging and tax avoidance by the rich and the big corporations, not targeting the most vulnerable in society with their heartless policies which help the rich get richer and make the poor poorer.

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Council Vote For £25million Cuts

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Today, Worcestershire County Council Councillors voted by 9 votes to endorse the Tory Cabinet budget and slash over £25million from its next round of spending. This  happened despite opposition pleas to save some services and re-direct finances to some essential services, the the vulnerable and buses – which was subject to massive public outcry recently. You might want to check out who voted for and against, or who abstained. Some so called ‘radical’ opposition isn’t quite so radical it seems, it just wears a different shade of blue rossette despite the pretence of being a different colour.

The Green Party joined the ranks of the protesters against the cuts outside of county hall this lunchtime.

The cuts voted for included the 64% cut to our bus services – the highest in the country by some spectacular margin and not much of a ‘u-turn’ as declared by the media! It remains to be seen what routes they will ‘save’ but no doubt party politics will play a bigger role in the decsion making process than what is ‘essential’ to bus users.

This is the report sent by Wyre Forest Green Party to the council leader and his cabinet (no reply received by the way).

Dear Cllr Hardman,

Council Leader

Worcestershire County Council

 

RE: CUTS TO BUS SERVICES – WYRE FOREST CAMPAIGNERS EXPERIENCES – REPORT

 

I write to you further to our campaign to draw to the council’s attention the negative public reaction to the proposed bus cuts in Wyre Forest.

 

You will be aware, as I note that most of the information contained in the next Cabinet Report Appendix is present, that the Wyre Forest ‘Save Our Buses’ campaign managed to accumulate 1,000 signatures on a petition against the cuts, delivered 602 letters to Wyre Forest County Councillors signed by Wyre Forest residents, and distributed over 200 of your own council consultation forms to local people.

 

This is a remarkable feat in a short space of time and helped put Worcestershire on the map for all of the wrong reasons. I am led to believe that total returns in the consultation exceed 8,500 – a return not achieved anywhere else in the country and this in itself demonstrates the level of opposition to the proposed cuts

 

The campaign’s intention, apart from the obvious objections to the cuts, has also been to bring to the council’s attention just what the cuts in these bus services will mean in real terms for real people’s lives, for the local economy, our health and well-being, including the environmental impact.

 

An unexpected but informative twist also meant that we found out about the reality for bus service providers, and what it might mean for them, and of course in-turn the community, if the bus subsidy for unprofitable routes is removed.

 

WHAT THE PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE CUTS

Our group discovered, in the numerous public events we held to publicise this issue, that it transcends age and even class barriers. People have relayed to us their own fears and concerns about what such cuts will mean.

 

Comments received summarising public fears:

It will have a negative economic impact and brings real concerns on safety for the old, disabled, young people, and schoolchildren.

 

Workers rely on the buses to get to work, many of these are low paid workers who have no other means of transport and may lose their jobs if services they rely on are lost.

 

Vulnerable people and the elderly rely on them to get about and get into the town centres to do their weekly shopping and undertake their business.

 

Removing bus services will mean schoolchildren whose parents do not have access to vehicles are at risk on the streets when travelling to and from school etc.

 

It will impair the ability of young people seeking work to secure employment in an already fragile economic situation.

 

Ultimately, bus cuts will lead to an increasing number of people being isolated in their homes and community. This could place an extra strain on social care resources as people lose independence and suffer health and well-being issues. This is quite apart from the impact on their health of not being able to access what appears to be a growing ‘access inequality’ to what they consider remote medical services, particularly for those people in rural areas.

 

FALSE ECONOMY – QUESTIONS RAISED

It should also be regarded that as a likely outcome from such cuts, there will be higher levels of congestion as people seek alternatives. With this will come increased demands on the physical infrastructure (roads etc), and higher levels of pollution which can detrimentally affect the environment and peoples health.

 

This could place additional financial burdens on other budgets the council holds rendering any bus subsidy cuts a false economy and I ask if any costing for this aspect has been made?

 

The hidden economic, environmental, health, and road safety question of the potential for an increased number of un-roadworthy cars or those in poor condition being used by the financially vulnerable should also be factored in to this equation.

 

I would ask if this has been a consideration because this may very well impact upon the budgets of other public services (Police/Fire/NHS/HSE) and have they been included as stakeholders in the consultation?

 

EQUALITY CONSIDERATIONS

Given the above views presented to us during our events, I would be very interested to see just what is contained in the Equality Impact Assessment the council has surely undertaken? It would be most informative to see how it stacks up against the publics’ very real concerns; and the public sector duties the council has under the Equalities Act.

 

STATUTORY DUTY – BUS SERVICES

Consequent to this, I would also be interested to hear how you feel removing the total £3million subsidy for supported bus services, which in any event should be considered a social investment, sits with the council’s statutory duty to identify transport needs and to provide services where these needs would not otherwise be met?

 

Has the council not commissioned a prior report into this duty and its own areas of vulnerability on this matter prior to this consultation? This would surely better inform its members of the consequences of a breach of this duty and have identified where services need to be maintained?

 

If such a report exists is it publicly available?

 

MORE BUS CUTS IN WORCESTERSHIRE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE

The proposed cut of 100% is radical in the extreme when compared to every other council in the country, who so far as I am aware have not taken such draconian measures with the majority cut being below 25% with only 4 local authorities reaching cuts in the 40% range (peak).

 

It is hard to see how a 100% cut can be justified especially when factored against the West Midlands as a whole, which already spends the lowest of any region (£3.82) on supported bus services per head of population.  Indeed, the current amount of supported bus spending versus share of population also puts West Midlands at the bottom of the league table. It is hard to reconcile the council’s thinking against these facts because the proposal will make matters even worse.

 

BUS CONTRACTS

As a result of our campaigning, I have also been made aware that if the subsidy for the supported routes is removed, it could and would most likely place bus companies delivering the contracts into wider financial jeopardy. This has implications for jobs and wider bus services, potentially rendering the county as a whole poorer both socially and economically.

 

Now whilst the majority of campaigners, myself included, would argue for a public run bus service rather than the inbuilt inefficiencies of competition in a market that has little or no left margin for it, the reality of the current model along with cuts presents an immediate crisis. In effect, the loss of the supported routes will have a detrimental impact upon the profitable commercial routes leading to their demise too. This, on the basis of ‘economies of scale’ applying to such bus companies operations, bearing in mind their staffing, business and other overheads.

 

These ‘economies of scale’ allow bus companies to cross-subsidise the ‘supported’ routes for what I am told is a significant amount of money. Any loss of supported routes threatens this business model as the services are co-dependent and as the business base declines, so will the ability of bus companies to offer services across the piece.

 

So, as co-dependence is an intrinsic part of their operations, and an intrinsic part of the contract in order to make them all financially viable, I do wonder if the council is aware of this fact and considers it when awarding contracts?

 

 

IS THERE A  DIFFERENT WAY OF WORKING?

The irony is that all of this is rather anti-competitive as the model favours large companies who can best take the hit compared to smaller companies who cannot afford to compete, unless they get wider contracts for services in order to cross-subsidise routes. Nevertheless, and on a grand scale, it may result at some point in no bus company small or large tendering for anything as it is simply not worth it to them.

 

This has lead campaigners involved in this issue to conclude that when the services are offered for tender, that this needs to be considered as it is entirely possible with a re-working of the contracts to facilitate more cross-subsidy, it may just help realise some of the savings the council says it needs to make, whilst preserving those services most needed for the community.

 

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Brown

On behalf of Wyre Forest ‘Save Our Buses’

Co-ordinated by Wyre Forest Green Party

 

 

 

 

SAVE OUR BUSES PETITION HANDED IN

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The ‘Save Our Buses’ petition organised by Wyre Forest Green Party was handed in to the County Council at County Hall on Tursday 16th January 2014.

There were over 1,000 signatures with an additional 630 letters to county councillors, 220 consultation forms given out and about 600 leaflets distributed against the cuts.

Stephen Brown, Wyre Forest Green Party spokesperson said “the level of interest and public concern over this matter has been huge and to put it in context, in a similar consultation in Dorset, the total number of responses to the council’s consultation amounted to 1200. In Worcestershire, the council has received 7,000 responses. So, you can see the public are not impressed with the council’s plans. It’s not too late – the council can think again and look at re-directing money from other parts of the council budget, or renegotiating its contracts on buses for the benefit of local people, rather than thinking slash and burn is the answer to all of its problems without due regard for people’s needs or the local economy”.

Ronald Lee, who collated the petition on behalf of Green Party campaigners to deliver it to the council said “The fact that we collected 1,000 signatures at our stalls in Kidderminster, Stourport, and Bewdley, shows the huge opposition there is amongst the people of Wyre Forest to the proposed bus cuts. I hope the council will take heed of this and shelve their plans to withdraw the £3 million subsidy”.

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Phil Oliver, Ronald Lee & Mike Whitbread handing in the petition at County Hall

WYRE FOREST PUBLIC SPEAK OUT AGAINST BUS CUTS

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SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN SO FAR:

Wyre Forest Green Party’s “Save Our Buses” campaign has seen the public place nearly 1,000 of their signatures on the petition, sign 630 letters to councillors, fill in 180 council consultation forms and receive 520 explanatory leaflets.

All this was achieved in less than a month with Christmas falling in between. A remarkable feat by any standards.

Stephen Brown, Wyre Forest Green Party spokesperson said “This is a loud and clear message from local people to the council to leave our buses alone”.

To date, there have been 2 stalls in Kidderminster and one each in Stourport and Bewdley and while the consultation ends this Friday, it will not stop campaigners collecting more signatures and continuing to get letters signed by residents to send to councillors before the final decision on the buses is made.

As well as calling for an end to the bus cuts which will detrimentally affect people of all ages, campaigners are calling for Worcestershire County Council to ‘break the mold’ and be bold and look at alternative models to save bus services just like Northamptonshire County Council did when they decided to renegotiate all contracts with bus companies so they could save services at risk when facing a £2.3 million cut.

CAMPAIGNERS SAY:

“RENEGOTIATE BUS CONTRACTS LIKE OTHER COUNCILS HAVE TO SAVE BUS SERVICES”:

Stephen Brown went on to say “Simply cutting bus services without regard for the vulnerable and those without cars means the local economy will suffer and it is totally short-sighted. It will isolate people and undermine the social fabric of our communities running contrary to the prevention agenda and equality. The young unemployed and elderly are hit hardest. The council needs to be more forward thinking and be creative. Rather than simply looking at cuts in an ideological way to save money and to abdicate its statutory duty where these services would not otherwise be met, I challenge Worcestershire County Council to use this duty and do what Northamptonshire did.  Worcestershire should use the cuts as a bargaining chip to renegotiate bus contracts in order to save the commercially unprofitable routes. Other councils have chosen to protect supported bus services rather than do what this council is doing and cut its entire budget. It is scandalous what our council are up to and they are completely out of touch with ordinary people”.

The claim that the council are out of touch and lack understanding about just how important bus services are is supported by evidence from the Campaign For Better Transport Report 2013. The report concludes two thirds of all public transport journeys are made by bus so they are socially and economically vital yet anyone rarely looks at this as a national issue because provision is devolved; meaning local councils fail to understand the implications of their actions in cutting services. The West Midlands already suffers as the worst area for spending on supported bus services per head of population, and cuts are further eroding our ability to economically compete with other areas as well as adding to levels of economic and social deprivation not to mention isolation. The average per head in the West Midlands spent on supported bus services is now £3.82 compared to the South East at £5.00 or North West at £8.90. Cuts are deeper in areas that do not have a Passenger Transport Executive (PTE) just like Worcestershire, and that makes us one of, if not the worst hit area in the entire country, which is not something our councillors should be proud of.

Save Our Buses Campaign Heats Up

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Another few hours of campaigning on Friday 20th December demonstrated yet again the strength of public opposition to the County Council’s proposed scrapping of over 20 bus routes in Wyre Forest.

Wyre Forest Green Party’s ‘Save Our Buses’ stall in Kidderminster went even better than the one the previous Saturday, with 197 letters to county councillors filled in, 321 signatures on the petition, over 60 consultation forms distributed and around 200 leaflets given out which encourage people to do the consultation online.

People were queuing up even before the table, petition and placards were set up as they were eager to sign the petition and get more information.

To date, Wyre Forest Green Party has seen the public sign 367 of our letters to councillors which we will pass on, collected 636 signatures on the petition, given out over 120 consultation forms and distributed over 350 leaflets.

Stephen Brown, Wyre Forest Green Party spokesperson said “The level of anger from the public about the loss of these services is clearly evident, people have been queuing up to sign the petition and our letters. We have been thanked for being the only local party that is co-ordinating action against the bus cuts so giving people a voice. It is obvious therefore that the public feel let down by the council and councillors who are making these decisions, and many people have remarked to us that the council is just too out of touch with the needs of ordinary people who rely on these bus services. People also relay to us their own personal stories about how the loss of the bus services will isolate them, put their school children at risk and cause economic hardship as they will not be able to get to work so will lose their job. This is not just an issue that affects one group of people, it affects whole communities – we have had the young, the old, workers, mothers, schoolchildren, the disabled all coming along to express their displeasure at the loss of services. The message is clear – the council mess with these services at their peril. And that’s what we will be telling the council”.

 
 
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Pic: Green Party members talking to the public about opposing the bus cuts on Friday 20th December 2013

GREEN PARTY LAUNCHES ‘SAVE OUR BUSES’ CAMPAIGN

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GREEN PARTY LAUNCHES ‘SAVE OUR BUSES’ CAMPAIGN: With over 20 bus routes under threat from council cuts, Wyre Forest Green Party activists were outside Kidderminster Town Hall on Saturday 14th December between 11am and 2pm, campaigning against plans to axe these crucial bus services.

This will be an ongoing campaign with the next stall being outside the Town Hall on Friday 20th December between 11am and 2pm but we plan to campaign around Wyre Forest on this issue over the coming months.

MASSIVE PUBLIC INTEREST: Interest from the public was massive on the 14th December with 170 letters to county councillors filled in, 315 signatures on our ‘save our buses’ petition, 60 consultation forms being distributed, and 150 leaflets encouraging people to fill in the council’s online consultation.

THE NEED FOR SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT: At a time when the need for sustainable and affordable transport in the area is greater than ever in a time of austerity, the Green Party believes that if the services disappear there will be higher fares and reduced frequency on those services that are left and this could be devastating for local people.

SAFETY FEARS AND DAMAGE TO OUR LOCAL ECONOMY: Many of the routes serve elderly people living in rural areas, allow children to travel to school safely, or enable workers to get to their jobs in the early morning or late evening. Axing services will increase the danger for children travelling to and from school, will make travel to work more difficult, will isolate the elderly and those who do not have access to private cars, and critically have a negative impact upon our local economy.

ONLY WYRE FOREST GREEN PARTY IS STANDING UP FOR LOCAL BUS SERVICES: Stephen Brown, Green Party Spokesperson said “Worcestershire County Council pays private bus companies to run commercially unprofitably but socially necessary services and do not seem to appreciate or understand the damage that removing these subsidies will do. They see it purely as a cost issue and not a value one. These services help local people go about their business, keep our local economy going, and prevent the more vulnerable in our communities from becoming isolated. That is why Wyre Forest Green Party has launched this campaign to save our buses and we hope local people will get behind it in large numbers to help us put pressure on the council to stop these cuts”.

PETITION LAUNCHED: As part of the campaign, Wyre Forest Green Party has launched a website at: www.wyreforestbetterbuses.org and a petition which states:

We, the undersigned, understand that Worcestershire County Council have proposed to cut £3 million to public transport in Worcestershire. We request that Worcestershire County Council reverse this decision and make a commitment to protect local bus services from future funding cuts. We ask Councillors to examine the knock-on impacts of planned cuts and changes to Worcestershire bus services, and to consider their obligations under the Equalities Act 2010.

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Bewdley Christmas Lights Festival

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Carrying our message for a sustainable future and a better economic plan that works for everyone and not just the few, Wyre Forest Green Party were at the Bewdley Christmas Lights Festival on Saturday 7th December.

It is probably highly appropriate that at this time of year our message is ‘everyone matters’ and it seems the public thought so too as they get tired of self-interested politics that only serves the rich. We had a lot of interest in what the Green Party stands for and plenty of support for our alternative approach to austerity and our rejection of the current economic model. The Green Party puts people and the environment at the heart of what we do. We want first class public services, including the NHS and our local councils, and want more emphasis put on sustainable infrastructure, public transport, and ways to reduce our dependence on carbon fuels.

Keep an eye out for us in 2014 as we look to spread our message wide and far in Wyre Forest!

 

 

 

 

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