This mini-newsletter has been issued because an emergency has cropped up. We had hoped, and still hope, to issue a newsletter next month, but the item below won't wait till them. If you intend to read and act on only one campaign newsletter, this is the one. Note that this is written so that it applies to all readers wherever they live and whether or not they have access to the Internet.
The County Council has come up with an unusual Christmas present for many Cambridgeshire people. It is the privilege of being confined within their own homes, in some cases just in the evenings and/or on Sundays, in others forever.
Please reply BEFORE 4 JAN 2011 saying clearly that you reject this "present". If you have access to the Internet, reply to the county's consultation or (alternatively check the Integrated Plan page). One of the questions will ask about bus subsidies. Reply to that by highlighting option 4 (retaining all 80 contracted services). Whatever replies you give to the rest of the survey, do not compromise on this one.
If you're outside the scope of the survey -- it's addressed to Cambridgeshire residents and we're not sure whether others can respond -- then contact some of the key people in the Council saying in your own words why bus services need to be protected. You may wish to do this anyway, and Cambridgeshire residents could also usefully send a copy to their own county councillor. The other people are (all email addresses have "cambridgeshire.gov.uk" after the "@"):
Officers: mark.kemp@ paul.nelson@ Councillors: mac.mcguire@ (cabinet member for transport) jill.tuck@ (leader)
Those without Internet access who wish to contact the above people should send letters to Mr Mark Kemp, Mr Paul Nelson, Cllr Mac Mcguire, Cllr Jill Tuck and their local councillor at Cambridgeshire County Council, Shirehall, Castle Hill, Cambridge CB3 0AP.
We also recommend that you send a separate complaint to the County Council and your MP about the way the consultation is being rushed. Our recollection is that previous budget consultations have had closing dates between mid January and early February. It's ridiculous to force people to work out their complaints during the Christmas rush or the subsequent national shutdown! The County Council may say that they have to make their plans in time, i.e. effectively "blaming" the government; while the Government may "blame" the county council by saying that its schedule is its own responsibility. We have put "blame" in quotes because we suspect that both central and local government will be happy to have an excuse for wielding the axe as quickly as possible before the public have time to make a fuss. But make clear in your message that you want one of the two levels of government to accept responsibility -- they don't even have the excuse of being controlled by different parties!
Incidentally we believe that the suggestion that the survey can be completed in 15-20 minutes is highly optimistic -- at least if they want people to think about what they are saying. Maybe they don't.
Here are some arguments you can use.
1. As far as we know the Council has done no study on the effects of its proposed cuts. How many people will find themselves unable to get to work? How many won't be able to get to a shop to buy food? How many will have difficulties reaching their doctor or dentist? For such fundamental requirements, it really won't do to wave a magic wand and expect community buses to spring up to fill the gap.
2. Cuts to bus services will also have knock on effects on the rest of the public transport network, especially in the longer term in which people can change houses or jobs or buy extra cars. These are likely to have been ignored or underestimated by the Council. In particular, if your bus service is commercial, don't think you might not be affected -- bus operators are at liberty to withdraw routes at any time.
3. Bus services are essential for all five of the Council's strategic objectives. These are: to enable people to thrive, achieve their potential and improve their quality of life; to support and protect vulnerable people; to manage and deliver the growth and development of sustainable communities; to promote imptoved skill levels and economic prosperity, helping people into jobs and encouraging enterprise; and to meet the challenge of climate change and enhance the natural environment.
4. People will rightly feel resentful if their local services are axed while the Council continues to throw money at the guided busway, the overrun on which would have paid for all the rest of the county's buses for a generation. It isn't as if the guided busway had been demanded by the public -- the vast majority of those who expressed an opinion would have preferred a railway.
5. Buses are only a small fraction of the county's transport budget, but they are the only means of transport available to a substantial proportion of its population.
6. Some time we will have to come to terms with the fact that the supply of fossil fuels is limited, and it would help if we had a public transport system which could provide alternative options for most people's travel needs. Incidentally electric cars won't help -- it will be decades before we have enough renewable energy to power individual transport for all.
7. We believe that the Council has no intention of implementing option 1 (getting rid of all subsidies) but has put this in so that it can present options 2 (get rid of 50 out of 80 contracts) and 3 (get rid of 15 contracts and reduce services on others) as compromises. So it may be helpful to present option 4 (essentially the status quo) as a compromise: between a "cuts" programme which will entrench non-motorists as an underclass, and a fully comprehensive network which would give reasonable services to all communities. Our next "main" newsletter will feature a new book which condemns the transport policies of the "Anglosphere" and recommends those of Switzerland instead, where such a network is a reality. (And the subsidy per passenger is less than in most parts of this country, so it isn't because they are throwing money at the problem.) To see for youself visit the website which contains the first few pages of the book and a link to an order form if you want to buy it.
Please also pass on this message to anyone you know who makes regular use of buses, especially on supported routes; and to pressure groups who might be interested in putting forward their own complaints.
If you don't use rural buses why not give them a try? They give access to lots of interesting countryside, and if you enjoy the trip it may help motivate you to lobby to save them.
If you're campaigning against other spending cuts remember this famous cri de coeur from the Nazi era (apologies if we haven't got it quite right). There's a group (Cambs against the Cuts) that's trying to bring the various anti-cuts campaigns together -- see its website for details of its next meeting on Sat 18 Dec.
When they came for the Jews I did not speak up because I was not a Jew When they came for the communists I did not speak up because I was not a communist When they came for the trade unionists I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist So when they came for me there was nobody left to speak for me.
And remember that although the consultation referred to above only affects Cambridgeshire, there are likely to be similar problems elsewhere in the country. If you make regular use of supported buses anywhere, or would like to, try to find out what's going on there and if necessary reply to their local consultation.
To summarise, here is our "Action Line"
1. If you live in Cambridgeshire and have access to the Internet, respond to the consultation.
2. If you live in Cambridgeshire or have any special interest in Cambridgeshire's buses, write to the officers and councillors mentioned above oppsing the cuts and giving the reason for your interest.
3. If you belong to any pressure groups for which transport issues are relevant, ask them to make their concerns known before the deadline.
4. If you know any people who depend on Cambridgeshire buses, ask them to respond to the survey.
5. If you are concerned about buses elsewhere in the country (London excepted) or know anyone who is, ask them to be on the lookout for similar consultations in their own areas and respond to them, also to lobby their local councillors in the county or unitary authority where they live.