Letter: We urge the city regional mayor to restore the full concession before winter sets in
This letter sent to the Star was written by Mike Smith, Park a Grove, Barnsley, S70
The events surrounding the effects of the democracy petition on Sheffield council weren't lost on the The South Yorkshire Freedom Riders. Ironically, Sheffield may well improve democracy at local level but South Yorkshire is stuck with the Putinesque strong man leader model with a South Yorkshire mayoralty no one wanted and with whom there is no public involvement or oversight of the handing out tens of millions of our money for at least the next two years.
We have been campaigning now for five and a half years for the full restoration of the train travel concession, withdrawn on the orders of the leader of Barnsley council, Cllr Houghton and with the support of MP Dan Jarvis. It was a decision taken without consultation, without discussion at council level and without discussion with those 300,000 elderly and several thousands of affected disabled people who also lost their concession. The elderly portion cost South Yorkshire councils a combined total of £329,000 a year, £1.04 per eligible pensioner per year. During that time we have set out alternative funding such as the Metro gold card as they now have in the North east. It wasn't even considered. If half the numbers eligible had paid their £10 for a year for free train travel it would have yielded £1.5m, four and a half times the amount the rail companies were happy to receive and who hadn't ended the concession or demanded more money. Similar concessions in Liverpool and Manchester cost far more, £11m in Liverpool, (but it's available from 60 and includes free bus travel), and a similar amount in Manchester. Neither Liverpool nor Manchester have sought to close their concessions despite suffering similar cuts to their budgets. Having met only once with Cllr Houghton two years ago and twice with mayor Jarvis, figures of £60 for each pensioner have been bandied around without any presence at such meetings by the Freedom Riders group. Such figures would be several times more than it costs elsewhere. Despite asking the mayor to look at the north east gold card, (£12), so far we've had nothing. So you can imagine our surprise on reading that as mayor with responsibility for transport, and for five and a half years being told that restoring the concession would be too costly, a total of £7.4 million has been given to the Glassworks town centre development in Barnsley. This is a project so far costing £180m, a project that the leader of the council assured the people of Barnsley in 2016 would not rise above £50m. (From the Chronicle, January 29, 2016 "Coucil leader Sir Steve Houghton has offered reassurance that the £50m Better Barnsley ambitious plans to regenerate the town centre are not in danger of going over budget."). It's already in trouble due to not meeting expected rental income and still not having secured contracts for all its market stalls and only a handful of interest in the proposed 40 shops. Why has this £7.4 million has been handed to another consultation free, supposedly fully costed, project, when only a small portion could have been used to benefit 300,000 elderly people in South Yorkshire and help them leave their cars at home or even to rely on public transport alone? We urge the city regional mayor to restore the full concession before winter sets in and we see yet more of our elderly citizens living in a severely deprived region having their lives ended early for lack of opportunities to be mobile, to visit friends, shopping centre's, places of culture and interest and play a full part in society. As the World Health Organisation requires under commitments to Age Friendly cities and towns.