Why we need investment in public transport innovation in Norfolk

by Steff on 11 February, 2019

I want to talk to you about the direction of travel of the county council as a whole.

It used to be that conservative councils and governments got elected on a platform of credibility. Now, governmental conservatism is a synonym for incompetence. This used to be a party with a plan, and a grip on the finances in particular. But this is clearly no longer the case.

While we fight to protect people from the devastating impact of the proposed budget, the ship is sinking. The report from Policy and resources committee itself says that ‘fundamental changes to the level and type of service’ could be expected. The county council is out of financial tricks. You’ve made cuts – and we’ve opposed them – but they’ve not actually had the effect you promised, of shoring up finances. So all we’ve done is make some poor people poorer, and wasted a year and a half of time we could have spent coming up with a radically different plan. One that started with a conversation with the electorate about what they actually expect from us as a local authority, and enters into a proper consultation about the balance of priorities we, as a community, want to have. Including, might I say, those that relate to the long term impact of our species on our environment which this morning’s protest has brought sharply to our attention.

Instead we’ve had nearly three years of managed reduction. There has been no vision for our county, and no plan for how to ensure its long term prospects. Nor has there been an effective strategy to grow our local economy – something that, if nothing else, Tories are surely known to be interested in.

If we want prosperity in our county, we need to think about what makes locations successful. The clue is in the question: location. True, a location could simply be about the beautiful view or the agreeable weather. But most of what’s in a location is about where else you can get to from there. Schools, hospitals, doctors centres. Banks, services, jobs and, yes, even local council services. We are a predominantly rural community, so every town and village in Norfolk needs a way of providing access to these services. Even Norwich itself suffers from chronic pollution problems associated with being the only major centre in a county dominated by private motor cars.

In a world where industry commentators believe the era of purchasing new petrol and diesel cars will be over within a decade, there is clearly huge change on the horizon, and not a moment too soon.   I hope this change – powered by technology – will have a transformative impact on public transport too. But here is out choice: do we sit back and wait for it to happen?   Hope that we manage to escape going to hell in a handcart while it’s on our watch? Or do we take a lead?

Modern innovation requires a mixture of technology, timing and motivation.

I genuinely believe with a £500,000 fund, split 50:50 between pilots and prizes, we could encourage the next generation of public transport innovation in Norfolk.

Let me be clear: this is not a request for more money to subsidise bus services as they exist today – although I know many of our providers are struggling to maintain services given current cuts.

Instead with this modest amount of money, we could provide the perfect circumstances to test out transformative new ideas in public transport, drawing on the power of the digital age, of advances in electric vehicles, and of the disruptive potential of the sharing economy.

Up and down the country, metropolitan areas are calling themselves connected cities and are proving that public transport as a universal service benefits everyone. They’re doing it using the latest innovations in technology, infrastructure and investment. Why can’t we be the county that takes it to the next step – a connected county, to provide people with access to the jobs we say they should be taking, the services we know they need, and to stimulate the economic growth that makes a place, a place people can live and work in.

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