29 September 2015

In Politics, Talk is Cheap

These [disabled] people need to have access to public transport which is free.Deputy E.J. Noel of St. Lawrence, seeking election as Minister for Transport and Technical Services, 6th November 2014. 

Today, I lodged an amendment to the Medium Term Financial Plan asking for the £100, 000 that was to be allocated by the Privileges and Procedures Committee to States Members Pensions to be put to the (arguably better) cause of providing free bus passes for disabled residents in Jersey. As I explain below, this sum may or may not be enough, however, it will be a start and, more importantly, it will force a States decision on the matter and keep the pressure up on the Minister to deliver on his election promise.

Anthony Lewis receives national award presented by Australian
rugby player, Michael Lynagh on behalf of the Stroke Association
The issue of free access for disabled people to public transport came up at the very first senatorial hustings at Grouville in 2014 when well known Jersey man, Anthony Lewis, whose courage following a stroke was an inspiration to all, asked 'I have not been able to get a disabled bus pass; do we do enough for disabled people in Jersey?'  The responses were interesting;  What is particularly striking  is just how many established and long-serving politicians - including the Treasury Minister and a Former Social Minister - were unaware of the fact that disabled people in Jersey do not and did not (then) have free concessionary passes. Strange that.


Responses from successful candidates:
Senator Ozouf: "I didn’t know you couldn’t get a bus pass. Many of us would want to fix that. More money is going into healthcare spending."

Dr. Cameron: "We can do a lot more. I have concerns over the way the Impairment Benefit is assessed, it’s not fit for purpose. The Jersey Disability Partnership is there and we do need to listen more to people like you to inform our policy in future."

Senator Routier: "No we’re not doing enough. I am the Chair of the Service Users’ Forum and wasn’t aware of this issue of not having a bus pass. We’re having a Transport Policy Review which I’m sure will put that in there."

Senator Farnham: "I’m embarrassed to learn you couldn’t get a bus pass, you should be able to; something has to be done about that. A lot more could be done, keep campaigning and I’m sure you’ll continue to get results."

Senator Bailhache: "I never thought about the question of bus passes. I’m sure we should be thinking about it. I’m sure there is more to be done, the question has certainly stimulated me and I’m sure others I think about the question for the future." (A great answer which can be given to almost any question)

Senator Maclean: "The question is why you should have had to come to a Hustings to raise this issue, you shouldn’t have had to, we should’ve known about it and been able to deal with issues to do with disabled people, if we can’t help as a government people who are in genuine need, what are we here for, if something needs to be dealt with? I might add that the system of support is sometimes too rigid, people feel almost criminalised at times with genuine needs who need genuine help and other people are abusing the system, so that needs balancing out to ensure we don’t waste money."

Deputy Green: "No we don’t do enough, not focussed on what disabled people can do we concentrate on what they can’t do… nor do we look after the carers. There’s a lot more work to be done."

Senator Gorst:

"Should we put more money into disability? The answer is yes… so we are going to need to put more money in certain areas. We are not doing enough for the disabled. Senator Routier and I have allocated some of our budget now to start a mapping process of disability. We do not know what all the conditions are, how many people there are, therefore we can’t even properly plan all the services that we need or make the changes to the buildings. So we’re starting that work and it’s got to be done in conjunction with business as well; it’s about public awareness… and what businesses are going to need to do as well to look after the people who are working for them, because it’s about ability. We’re not doing enough but we are absolutely committed to doing more… and once we’ve done the mapping and research we’re going to have to spend a lot more money, is that the right thing? I believe it is."


Clearly, there is a lot of support in the Council of Ministers for this issue. The same sentiment and commitment to action were conveyed only a few weeks later when in Deputy Noel was making his pitch to the States Assembly for the job of Minister for Transport and Technical Services –
"I was appalled when I heard that at the Grouville hustings and I have had another. Yes, that is going to be high on my priorities… We will find a solution and implement that in short order."
Deputy E.J. Noel

With this in mind, the Council of Ministers, and the Assembly, should welcome the amendment which I lodged today, reallocate a starting sum of £100,000 to be used for the purposes of the Minister delivering on this election promise. I shall be very disappointed not to receive unanimous support for this, although such disappointments are not uncommon.

It should be noted that the wideness or narrowness of any proposed scheme (i.e. how many people are likely to be eligible) will have an effect on the overall cost of the scheme. It will also depend on what level of subsidy/discount, if any, the current bus operator will give, but it should be noted that Liberty Bus’s own website confirms that CT Plus is committed to Social Enterprise (presumably a modern phrase for Social Corporate Responsibility). It may well be that part of that Social Enterprise can be to offer free bus passes for the disabled, or at the very least, offer a discounted fair, with the rest being funded by Government.

People in Jersey may disagree on how much money we should spend on Income Support, who should qualify for free TV licenses, and how money should be spent generally. It seems to me, however, that in a decent, civilized society, decent provision should be made for those need assistance to do other things that many of us take for granted. It is important too, as the Health Minister Andrew Green has said, that we focus on what people can do and not what they can't, and this initiative recognizes the courage and resilience that many in our society show in the face of (sometimes hidden) physical and mental adversity.

The people I have spoken to overwhelmingly support the idea that disabled people should be given free travel on public transport (i.e. buses). I hope the States will endorse this amendment and send a strong message of solidarity to these people who play an active role in our society despite the challenges they may face. 

15 September 2015

Les Quennevais - Time to move the Parish Hall?

Today, the public consultation on the possible sites of a new Les Quennevais School has begun. As a former pupil, someone who grew up in the area and, of course, in my capacity long-standing political representative for the area, I am keen to make sure we get this right. 

I believe a new school is long overdue.Teachers, parents and pupils must be commended for their continuing efforts in the pursuit of excellence and the current school achieves excellent results, but it is despite the inadequate 1960s building, which is no longer fit for modern needs, and vastly undersized. 

A balance will need to be struck to mitigate any loss of green fields, and I believe the way to do that is to avoid high density housing on the current site, which will no doubt be the preferred option, given the current housing shortage. 

I am calling for serious consideration to be given to moving the Parish Hall to that site, right in the heart of the Community, where the vast majority of people live - not tucked away in the village of St Aubin, far from most residents, with its parking issues. 

I believe to win around public opinion from the area, people will want to know, quite rightly, what will happen with the current site and that thought has been given to a decent community space, yes, with some quality housing (preferably affordable, sheltered and social), but moreover, open green spaces, allotments and shared community facilities. 

If Education, Planning and Ministers can aspire to this, then there is no reason the new plans cannot be a win-win for everyone.