Somebody always wants your opinion in Thanet – do we abolish our stroke services? Do we really need an A&E bit to our hospital? How do we make “savings” of £400,000 from our bus services? Shall we elect some real people as county councillors or just suits who don’t take buses – ever? And perhaps don’t listen to the people who pay their allowances…..
I went along to a huge meeting in Broadstairs in the Baptist church – where speakers sit under a massive cross – which should concentrate the brain on moral integrity or something. It was about our bus services and Councillor Mike Whiting, Kent County Council cabinet member for Transport, was there to listen to people’s worries.
KCC have apparently been consulting people about this for a while – they called it the Big Conversation – but almost none of the 400 odd people at this meeting had ever been invited. I never was and I like a nice conversation, especially about buses as I don’t drive, can’t walk far, and have lots of opinions.
But this wasn’t part of that official consultation so Mike said it wasn’t being minuted. Rumbles went around the room as we realised whatever we said wasn’t going to be taken seriously.
At 2.30pm when most people of working age were at work, we were all elderly and many were stick users or decrepit in some way. KCC spends £68 million on bus passes so between us we represented a huge expenditure on poor Mike’s part. All paid to boost the profits of private companies as KCC doesn’t run any bus services itself.
Not that Mike does any of that. One of the first questions was : “When did you last take a bus yourself?” “Well, between six and eight (Hours, days? NO) WEEKS ago”. That did not go down well. After a few incredulous guffaws, the audience got quite stroppy, especially the ones that live on threatened routes. We don’t get that many chances to have a bit of a shout at our politicians and the good pensioners of Thanet certainly took it!
There have been rumours of axing bus services, especially the number 56 which serves bits of Thanet that the Loop doesn’t reach.
According to Mike it’s safe for the time being and they will consult properly before doing anything about it. Well I don’t know how many people have to say “please keep it”, but most people there will be furious if it goes. Pity it wasn’t an “official” consultation. Mike’s preference seems to be to hold those nowhere near where people live and not on a bus route – like the last one which was at Margate football ground in the evening, and attracted only forty people.
Mike spoke a little wistfully of how Transport for London, under Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, was able to make decisions about bus routes and timetables. I asked him if he wished we could have Transport for Kent, and would he lobby his transport minister to let him have his own transport network? You know – one run for the benefit of the residents and not the profits of the likes of Stagecoach, who have a monopoly round here.
He then said something he might regret: “You need to lobby people like me and your MP for subsidised transport for social need.”
Well guess who was there lurking at the back? Someone spotted that our MP was actually in the room! So Craig Mackinlay was reluctantly dragged to the front, and we all hoped he’d be like the good fairy in Sleeping Beauty who might reverse the evil fairy’s spell. But no! Not his job, he said. “I’m just here to listen. You need to lobby KCC.” So the buck was passed and it’s now down to us to find the good fairy…. or lobby the bad one.
As we came out there was a rush for the last 56 bus which leaves Broadstairs for North Foreland just after four. After that you’re on your feet. Or stuck at home.
Mike had to rush off too because his parking ticket ran out at 4.15. But as he gets a travel allowance and has his own car it may be longer than six weeks before he needs to take another bus.
Here’s Mike’s contact details, so you can lobby him, firstname.lastname@example.org
*Cllr Whiting said: “I was delighted to have been invited to the meeting in Broadstairs and to explain the position. Clearly there has been a lot of misinformation about what is happening which has caused distress for many in the area.
“There are currently no proposals to cut any KCC subsidised bus services.
“If any such proposals were to come forward, they would be subject to specific and detailed consultation.
“At present we are in discussions with operators to see how we might take routes in Thanet and in Sevenoaks out of subsidy by amending the commercial bus network in a way that replaces the key elements of the subsidised routes.
“As I said clearly at the meeting, rumours that buses would stop in September are inaccurate. In accordance with procedures, any proposals to amend services would be the subject of consultation with users and residents.”