Recommendations from the Scrutiny Bus Links Inquiry
To consider report LD.387, detailing recommendations from the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee following the recent bus links inquiry. Councillor Martin Quaile, Cabinet Member for the Environment, (including transport issues), to respond to the recommendations.
At the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 21 July 2011, the committee agreed that the Environment Scrutiny Panel, (aided by the Community Scrutiny Panel), should undertake a scrutiny inquiry of the public bus service provision, currently operating in the Forest of Dean.
Leader of the Council, Councillor Patrick Molyneux, invited Vice Chairman for the Inquiry, Councillor Ian Whitburn, to outline the recommendations from the inquiry. He also asked Councillor Whitburn to give an update on the outcome of the committee decision from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 12 January 2012, in response to the recommendations. Councillor Whitburn referred to Annex A of report LD.387, (detailing the final recommendations from the scrutiny inquiry), and informed members that at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 12 January 2012 the committee had made one amendment to the proposals, amending recommendation b to read: -
‘That the Leader of the Council write to the Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, the Leader of Monmouthshire County Council, the relevant minister of the Welsh Assembly and, of the government in Westminster, urging them to improve the integration of transport provision throughout the district and cross-border (as amended)’.
Councillor Whitburn emphasised the importance of appointing a Transport Member Champion, as detailed in Annex A to report LD.387. He said that the scrutiny panel had considered this a key recommendation and pivotal to addressing some of the transport issues affecting the Forest of Dean.
In response to a variety of wide-ranging questions, Councillor Whitburn made the following points of clarification: -
(a) In response to point 7 of the role of the Transport Champion, Councillor Whitburn said that the panel hoped ward members and parish councillors would be encouraged to communicate any transport issues to the council’s Community Engagement Team.
(b) Seeking clarification on whether recommendation f) of the proposals should refer to the District Council and not the County Council, (in proactively supporting local transport needs by providing details of community transport), Councillor Whitburn informed members that the recommendation had been aligned at county level to incorporate any journeys to hospitals located outside of the district.
(c) The four local community transport providers referred to in 2.2 of the final scrutiny report, (Annex A), included both Lydney and Newent Dial-a-Ride.
(d) Responding to concerns from Councillor Lynn Sterry, regarding the poor condition of some of the buses servicing the Forest of Dean, (particularly when making comparisons to the superior vehicles servicing Gloucester City), Councillor Whitburn said that, unfortunately the allocation of vehicles was not a decision that this council could easily influence. Later in the meeting, it was suggested that the appointment of a member champion might be able to address some of the issues relating to the reliability and quality of public bus services in the district.
Considering each of the recommendations at Annex A in turn, Councillor Martin Quaile, Cabinet Member for Environment, (with responsibility for issues relating to transport included in his portfolio), said that, although there was no problem in agreeing the recommendations, (as amended at recommendation b), there was some deliberation as to whether or not the transport champion should take the form of a cabinet support champion or as a council specific champion.
Elaborating further on this aspect, Councillor Brian Robinson, Cabinet Member for Efficient Council and Planning Policy said that, whilst supportive of the proposals, he questioned whether or not transport was a responsibility for this council and whether it was a viable option for ward members and parish councillors to communicate transport issues to the council’s Community Engagement Team. Whilst recognising the need to offer support on such matters, Councillor Robinson said that it was important to seek clarification on how such support could be provided.
Councillor Jane Horne said that, part of the role of the district and parish councillor was to offer advice and share the responsibility of addressing any issues affecting the community, including transport issues. Other members agreed with this perspective and said that it was important for district councillors to establish good communication links with the local community.
Leader of the Council, Councillor Patrick Molyneux, agreed that it was important not to lose sight of the individual role of the district councillor. He also said that, if cabinet chose to include issues relating to transport as part of the community portfolio, it would be necessary to consider whether or not the work should constitute a time limited exercise under the auspices of Councillor Terry Hale, Cabinet Member for Community, (incorporating specific short-term projects, including the use of cycle tracks and other issues). Alternatively, the role of the Transport Champion could be a decision for full council to make if councillors considered it necessary to expand the role and make the appointment permanent. The Leader said that, whatever approach was adopted, he was not entirely sure if the matter had been fully explored. With this in mind, he suggested undertaking a series of short-term actions as a cabinet specific project before council made a more informed decision.
Councillor Brian Robinson, Cabinet Member for an Efficient Council and Planning Policy, supported this proposal and said that there were two approaches that could be considered before making a decision; (i) to take immediate action and appoint a cabinet champion to work outside the cabinet structure in forging strong links with the community in considering transport issues; or (ii) for cabinet, (with established links to the county council), to undertake a short term project to address specific matters, including concerns about the condition of some of the public buses servicing the district, (as mentioned earlier in the meeting). Councillor Robinson said that, on completion of the project, there was no reason why council should not to consider the appointment of a transport champion at the Annual Meeting in May.
Supported by several other members at the meeting, Councillor Ian Whitburn reinforced the level of importance at which the scrutiny panel had attributed to appointing a council specific transport champion. He said that, although unable to take on the role himself, he hoped someone with an interest in undertaking an extensive and significant amount of work would be able to commit to the appointment. Councillor Bernie O’Neill agreed with this sentiment. Concerned that the seven points on the role of the transport champion might have lacked bite, Councillor O’Neill believed the description of the role should have accentuated how much of a commitment was required.
The Leader concluded the discussion and proposed that cabinet accept the recommendations outlined at Annex A, (as amended at recommendation b, and subject to seeking clarification on recommendation f). The Leader also proposed the appointment of a cabinet member champion, appointed to undertake work on a short-term basis before full council considered the appointment of a Transport Champion.
Cabinet members accepted the proposals and,
a) To recommend to Full Council that it agree the following recommendations, (as set in report LD.387), subject to seeking clarification on recommendation f), regarding whether or not the recommendation should be county or district specific, and
b) To appoint a cabinet member champion to undertake work on transport related issues as a short-term project
The recommendations from the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee, meeting held on 12 January 2012, included: -
a) Given the crucial importance of transport to the community of the Forest of Dean and its current inadequacies, the panel strongly recommends that the council appoint a transport champion at the earliest opportunity, with the role as defined below.
b) That the Leader of the Council write to the Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, the Leader of Monmouthshire County Council, the relevant minister of the Welsh Assembly and, of the government in Westminster, urging them to improve the integration of transport provision throughout the district and cross-border,
c) That the Strategic Director write to the responsible officer at the county council asking them to update the transport champion on changes as they happen,
d) That the council ask parish councils to report bus timetable and reliability complaints to the relevant Community Engagement Officer for the transport champion to act on,
e) That the council write a statement expressing its full support for the Forest of Dean Local Partnership’s lottery bid (Reaching Communities) to fund the coordination and marketing of community transport in the district
f) That the council proactively support local people’s transport needs by providing details of community transport to council offices, leisure centres, libraries, local doctors’ surgeries and hospitals within the county
The Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee suggested that the role of the Transport Champion include the following responsibilities: -
1. To keep a watching brief on transport provision within the district.
2. To co-ordinate information supplied by parish councils and the Community Engagement Team
3. To encourage the use of bus services and community transport
4. To explore the possibility of installing cycle racks
5. To liaise closely with the county council’s Urban Transport Manager and attend transport meetings as necessary
6. To help the Community Engagement Team co-ordinate marketing and communication with the community
7. To involve other councillors in stage two of the lottery bid process, or other ways forward if the bid does not reach that point.