eXplore card petition handover and debate

Campaigners against eXplore card withdrawal from Just42
Youth charity
Today I attended Suffolk County Council's Annual meeting and I was impressed to hear articulate, reasoned and powerful arguments. However these did not in the main come from members of the council but from petitioners including a group of young people from the Just42 youth charity in Woodbridge.

Three petitions were presented to the council one on country parks, a second on waste tips incredibly presented to the County Council by two Conservative Mid Suffolk District councillors including the Portfolio Holder for Waste and then the eXplore card petition.

Patrick Gillard in conversation with Cllr McGregor
Patrick Gillard from Woodbridge and Greer Hill, Head of Student Services at Otley College presented a convincing case that the withdrawal of the eXplore card is an injustice and already causing attendance and retention problems at colleges. The card which enabled young people to have discounted travel on public transport was withdrawn in April this year.

Gillard described the eXplore card as an investment in the future and pointed to problems with education, employment and independence caused by its withdrawal. Hill said that there was a feeling that the card was withdrawn as its holders cannot vote and they and the Just42 students present complained that they were not consulted about the withdrawal of the card half way through the academic year.

Greer Hill, Otley College
The response to this petition was particularly shameful. Despite promises to listen to the people of Suffolk made a few minutes earlier Mark Bee didn't seem too keen to do anything about this issue. Portfolio Holder GuyMcGregor claimed to have introduced the eXplore card himself and there was quite a scene between him and Labour Leader Sandy Martin who pointed out that this was a deliberate attempt to mis-lead. McGregor did introduce the card but it was simply a re-naming of the existing card issued by the previous Labour/Liberal administration.

4138 signatures!
McGregor went on to simply repeat the argument that there is no money and there was complete confusion in the council chamber about what the next action should be. Newly elected Chairman Patricia O'Brien seemed to think that petitions were literally presented, 3 Councillors speak and the Portfolio holder replies and that is that. She seemed to have some difficulty with the procedures and ended up adjourning the meeting with the future position unclear.

It became apparent that we were watching a Council that had just seen its leadership collapse, where the CEO is on gardening leave and where there are really serious holes in the legal department. Mark Bee did say something about this possibly being referred to Scrutiny but other councillors were dismissive suggesting quite incorrectly that young people elsewhere did not get what Cllr McGregor kept describing as a "discretionary" service. Children in London enjoy completely free bus and tram travel under 16 and then discounted rates between 16 and 18, even a third off for all students....

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