SYPTE: Clean up your act

Last year South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), an enormous power-crazed quango formed of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils, announced it needed to save £8million from its annual budget. As part of this, an all too brief consultation was instigated with the aim of cutting the Sheffield bus network by about 10%. As is usually the case with local authority consultations, the original plans were rubber stamped almost without change as reported in the Sheffield Star on 2 September 2015:

“Transport chiefs have agreed proposals to remove, replace, reduce and renumber buses across Sheffield despite last-ditch protests this afternoon.

“Campaigners demonstrated outside the meeting in Barnsley while inside protesters highlighted how the changes would hit people travelling to work or for hospital appointments.

“Martin Mayer, secretary of Sheffield Trade Union Council, asked councillors if they wanted to ‘take the political responsibility for the biggest ever cut on a single day to Sheffield buses’ – which he said amounted to at least a 10 per cent cut.

“Sheffield Bus Partnership claims the proposals will improve the city-wide bus network, reduce duplication and pollution, and make it more efficient.

“The plans were revised after thousands of people raised concerns during a heavily criticised public consultation.

“The cuts and changes will now come into force from the weekend starting October 31 after the plans were agreed.

“Plans were revised after thousands of people took part in consultation, with nine separate petitions against the changes submitted.

“But it was said at the meeting of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority transport committee that the amended plans would still have an impact on passengers, with several people speaking at the meeting and others protesting outside.

“Geraldine O’Connor, speaking as a disabled Sheffield resident, said she only found out about the consultation in July on the day it ended. She told councillors: ‘If your plans go ahead I might not be able to get to a job.’

“She claimed there was potential for a judicial review because disabled people would not be able to access ‘essential services such as the Hallamshire Hospital’ via the number 70.

“Graves Park Councillor Ian Auckland, who sits on the committee, said it was a ‘shrinking’ bus network. He added: ‘All the evidence is that shrinking networks lead to fewer passengers which leads to higher fares and so on – the only people who will benefit from that are the bus operators.’

“The changes were agreed as part of an interlinked package of measures under a devolution deal for the Sheffield region.

“David Young, from the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, said a ‘very good number of changes’ had been made to original plans as a result of consultation and as almost 2,500 people had taken part the ‘message has got out.’

“He said people travelling to hospital via the 70 would be able to change buses without having to walk.  Mr Young added: ‘There’s a lot of discussion about it all being bad news and cuts – there are increased services in some cases. These are all based on the actual patronage data, use it or lose it is very much a cliche but if customers are not using the services it is not sustainable to keep them running.’

“He said that most passengers’ concerns had been addressed by the revised proposals and some services had seen positive changes.

“The meeting also heard that it was estimated there would be ‘30 less job opportunities’ for people as a result of the changes, but no compulsory redundancies.”

And in the Sheffield Star just a week after the cuts…

“Sheffield Bus Partnership claimed the changes – which were revised after a public outcry – would improve the network and be more efficient.

“But Ann Suckley, of Ecclesfield, said it was now a battle to get to work at Meadowhall shopping centre, one of Sheffield’s biggest employers.  She said: ‘I now have to walk further which is fine but the 35 buses have gone to one an hour. The bus misses half the time so if you get the next hourly one you are going to be late for work.  You have to leave two and a half hours before work to make sure you can get there when it is a shopping centre that employs thousands of people.’

“A petition against changes to the 83 and 83a services was presented at Sheffield Council’s full meeting last week.

“Mary Fraser said it meant that elderly and disabled people in Firs Hill had to walk further and change buses to access shops in Burngreave.  She told councillors: ‘The elderly in Firs Hill don’t have any cars or anything like that to take them to these areas – I had to wait 25 minutes for a bus to take me home which I think is a disgrace.’

“Councillor Terry Fox said there had been several inquiries about bus changes and they would be passed on.

“Raymond Pixley, aged 89 and from Dore, said he had a printed timetable for the new 81 service which has replaced the 70 but it did not match the one online.  He said: ‘Even when I called SYPTE they couldn’t tell me which timetable was the right one.  We’ve got hospital appointments to get to and we can’t even find out what bus to get on.’

“Others have complained about long queues and cramped buses on the 52 routes from the city centre to Crookes, and the services up and down Ecclesall Road.

“Some called it a ‘shambles’ and one dad said his daughter now had to walk in the dark to catch the 87 bus to school or get there 45 minutes early by changing buses – which cost more in fares.

“Hairdresser James Pashley said there had been an incident of ‘bus rage’ at a stop outside The Crucible theatre when three buses passed as they were not in service on Thursday night.  He said: ‘When the 20 arrived a man asked if it went to Pitsmoor and the driver didn’t know – the passenger kicked off saying he had been there for 45 minutes.  They had an argument and the driver said he would call the police but then the passenger got out.’

“Transport chiefs say they are monitoring bus complaints to see which are more ‘significant’ – and that requests for changes will be reviewed.

“South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive said it has seen an increased number of complaints since the cuts were introduced last Sunday.

“A spokesman added: ‘This is normal when changes of this scale are made.  The executive and the bus operators are closely monitoring these and are determining which are temporary issues which will get resolved as people become more familiar with their journeys over the next two weeks, and which are more significant.  SYPTE is confident that accurate timetable information is available online, at bus stops and through printed timetables produced by the bus operators.  Passengers should be aware that printed timetables feature condensed travel information, and in some cases may include approximate times. We also encourage all of our passengers to plan their journey in advance, using our journey planning tools available at travelsouthyorkshire.com and on information kiosks in interchanges.  Customer satisfaction is important to us and we are encouraging bus users to give feedback on the network changes if something isn’t right, so the Sheffield Bus Partnership can understand where services are not meeting community needs. Requests for changes will be reviewed by the partnership and put in place where possible.'”

If SYPTE are so desperate to slash costs that they’re prepared to cut bus services to such an extent as to put people’s jobs at risk, make access to healthcare almost impossible and isolate the most vulnerable in the community, you’d think the easier cost savings would have been taken care of first, right?

Wrong.

Last year I filmed a member of staff at Sheffield Interchange spending 35 minutes wiping a grit bin clean with a bucket of soapy water.  A few weeks after there were THREE people cleaning the same windows – one with a squeegee, one with a blade and the other wiping the sills.  And now – as illustrated by the picture heading this blog – FOUR people sweeping up gravel. So I thought I’d ask SYPTE what was going on, starting with an email with the above picture and some others:

“Those pictures were taken at your Interchange today.  The first two show FOUR – repeat FOUR of your staff together doing nothing more than sweeping up gravel, including Anita Smith who I understand for reasons that escape me is a senior member of staff.  They were doing that – ALL FOUR OF THEM – for at least two hours; feel free to verify this via your CCTV records.

“The next picture is the state of the toilets at the same time (picture of toilets that looked like a bomb site).

“A few months ago I filmed the member of staff next to left wiping clean a grit bin near D2 with soapy water, taking 35 minutes.  This nonsense has to stop.  Without giving me a stock, straight bat answer such as ‘I’m sorry you were disappointed but be assured I’ll pass on your comments’ I would like you to answer the following questions:

1. What roles did each of the four members of staff have in sweeping up the gravel?

2. If all four did not have roles then why were they there, and will they be paid for that period?

3. Were any of the four staff more senior than the others and if so why did they not deploy surplus staff to clean the toilets?

4. How often are the toilets cleaned (cleaned does not mean attended, cleaned means swept and mopped, all surfaces wiped)?

A few days later came this reply:

“I have been passed your e-mail relating containing photos of 4 staff together on the runway at Sheffield interchange together with a photo of litter in the toilets. Following an investigation into this it transpires that the 4 staff were actually required to carry out a task they had been set – removing salt and grit from the kerbs and runways.  This required two staff to carry ‘buckets’ of a cleaning substance, one to do the ‘scrubbing and one to ensure their safety.

“Unfortunately due to current staffing levels any tasks such as this take cleaning staff form their regular duties including clearing the toilets.

“Thank you for taking the time to contact SYPTE, this allows us to explain why such actions take place.”

Not good enough.  I emailed back:

“Thank you for taking the trouble to look into this matter and for your prompt reply.  It is important that all SYPTE resources are used with the maximum efficiency and effectiveness, especially just a few months after the biggest cuts to the Sheffield bus network – including those services supported by SYPTE – in living memory.

“Whilst I perhaps expected any response to my email to be defensive, I am very disappointed with your explanation, though at the same time I have a morbid admiration for your defence of PTE staff, and the fantastical imagination necessary to justify allocating four people for at least half a day to sweep up some gravel in such a small area.

“Why would it take two members of staff to carry the cleaning agent? Surely, given the distance from the furthest point in the Interchange to the main building, even if the buckets couldn’t be carried in one journey by one person, then it would take less than 5 minutes for that person to make the same trip? And once the buckets were carried, what were the two people doing then?  Perhaps more puzzling is that in the pictures that I sent to SYPTE, plus many more I have, not only were no buckets being carried, but there is no evidence that any buckets were involved whatsoever. Maybe your investigation should have looked at the evidence before explaining it.

“As for the one person being responsible for the safety of the rest, presumably this was to ensure that if whoever was the scrubber couldn’t see or hear any oncoming buses then the person responsible for safety could alert the scrubber to the impending peril, and rapidly ensure that they and any equipment were relocated to a safe refuge until danger had passed. This, although rather over the top, would be reasonable enough, except in none of the pictures sent to you – plus others – was anyone looking in the direction of oncoming vehicles which can be clearly determined from the photographs.

“Wouldn’t it have been more honest to reply with a grudging admission that perhaps, on reflection, staff were not deployed in the more efficient and effective manner that day, that you’ll review procedures in future, and work with taxpayers rather than being defensive to the point of ridicule when all everybody wants is the maximum resources available for what the SYPTE should be doing, supporting local bus services?

“Wouldn’t it have been better for just two people to be allocated to the grit removal; one carrying the equipment and doing the actual scrubbing, and the other carrying the buckets then once the buckets were in situ snd not requiring to be carried, to be looking out properly for their safety while the scrubbing was taking place?

“Wouldn’t it have been better then for the two superfluous staff to be helping customers, promoting the use of local bus services, ensuring that tourist and locals alike are given the best possible travel experience in order that they will choose Sheffield again?

“Wouldn’t it be great if public bodies were more open, honest and clear, receptive to constructive criticism and be adaptive, ruthlessly efficient, always striving to do things better and maximising ever dwindling resources?”

No reply.  So the next time you’re not happy with your buses in South Yorkshire, you might ask if your council tax is being spent as efficiently as it might.  Local authorities seem to think they’re untouchable and get rather angry – almost intimidating – if you question them.

My previous blog on the forthcoming bus cuts in Derbyshire caused a bit of a kerfuffle at County Hall in Matlock.  I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Derbyshire County Council (DCC) to ascertain what the subsidy per passenger is on each supported bus service in order to see if there was a better way to preserve bus services rather that spend a proposed £1.3million on Demand Responsive Transport, a simple enough request and one sent in a purely personal capacity.  But DCC know who I work for, and rang them to tell me not to make such requests, and were clearly threatening unwelcome consequences for me and my employer if I refused to desist.

But that is my right – and your right – so exercise it.

Having to work on a Saturday afternoon? That’s life…

Earlier today I drove past protesting junior doctors opposite Sheffield Children’s Hospital holding placards saying how tired they were (well go to bed then), how underpaid they all were (13.5% pay rise on the table taking potential earnings up to £70,000) and how many hours they work (apparently working after 5pm is antisocial).

They also wanted passing motorists to honk their horns in support. But that would have been in breach of Rule 112 of the Highway Code as enforced by the 1988 Road Traffic Act and would have put lives at risk. So I didn’t.

I was slightly puzzled although more annoyed that, in spite of their claims to be striking in the interests of the safety of patients, they were blocking the pavement while shouting their incomprehensible nonsense at the top of their union-sponsored voices, while simultaneously jabbing their placards up and down in a kind of half-arsed wanking motion, scaring small children shitless – as if going into hospital wasn’t nerve wracking enough – and forcing them and their parents to walk into oncoming traffic on the busy A57 coming out of the fourth largest city in England.

Back in the real world I drive buses.  Those who have experienced this would probably say I don’t do it particularly well but nevertheless I am paid £8.91 per hour, regardless of what day of the week it is and what time of day I work.  I regularly work significantly more than 60 hours per week including evenings and weekends and when everything is rotted up I take home about £420 per week, after giving a third of the gross to the Government, of which 17p would go to Trident’s replacement (well worth it), and around £1.60 to the EU which, having banned wonky vegetables, are singularly responsible for the demise of That’s Life and, thankfully, the fucking irritating Doc Cox.

Speaking of irritating Docs, I suspect I do my job for the same reasons as many junior doctors. Of course it’s for the money – let’s be honest, the bills wouldn’t get paid otherwise and we all want to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle without necessarily wanting to be extravagant. But also, surely, because each and every day we, in our very different ways, provide a service which is largely appreciated. We don’t get it right all of the time, we all get tired and frustrated, but that’s life. I’ve never been on strike or off sick, I do my job to the best of my ability then go home.  I enjoy a quiet life.

The thing is, the striking junior doctors claim to be saving the NHS, but how many patients lives have they put at risk today?  3,000 operations have been cancelled or postponed as a direct result of industrial action, 7,000 in total to date with more set to follow.  It’s a bit like that thing you did at primary school, where you were told there were a dozen people in a hot air balloon and you had to lose some so the rest could survive. Except nobody is forcing the junior doctors to go on strike.

The key sticking point appears to be payments for working Saturdays. The British Medical Association (BMA) wants the whole day to attract an “unsociable hours premium”, but the Government says the hours between 7am and 5pm should be paid at the basic rate.  Like the rest of us. The BMA proposed accepting around half of the 13.5% basic pay rise (that’s THIRTEEN AND A HALF PER CENT) offered by the government in return for retaining extra payments (about £7,000) for working Saturdays.  Jesus.  Based on my current hourly rate, in a typical working week I’d be about £200 better off, and if such a whopping pay rise is, as the bleeding hearts claim, going to destroy the NHS then perhaps it’s not worth saving.

It’s perhaps worth noting here that the proportion of the total salary bill for junior doctors which would pay for the increase alone is almost exactly half of the entire mental health budget (currently just 1.4% of total NHS spending), so some people seem to have, shall we say, a skewed sense of priorities.

The Government says it wants to make these changes – which would be cost neutral so that the extra £8 billion they’re investing into the NHS would go directly to caring for patients –  to make it easier for hospitals to roster junior doctors at the weekend to address evidence of higher mortality among patients admitted Friday to Monday which, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal in September 2015 increases by up to 15 per cent.

Could any of the supporters of the strikes and other bleeding hearts honestly say they’d turn down such an offer?  Back in the day at the tender age of 19, I was staff representative (NOT union rep – can’t abide unions, bunch of trouble causers) for the IT and Purchasing departments at the fabulous Markham and Company of Chesterfield, and was able to secure the overwhelming majority of colleagues’ wishes not by strikes or walkouts or childish militant behaviour, but by building coalitions with others, differentiating the important and achievable from the outrageous and unrealistic.  And everybody was happy.  It was a cracking firm to work for (we built the machines that dug the Channel Tunnel, you know which, come to think of it, although was a terrific feat of engineering, the consequences have become catastrophic, allowing a [insert appropriate collective term here] of migrants virtually unrestricted entry into the UK) with a friendly atmosphere, devoid of back stabbing and selfishness, everybody pulling together for the common good   Not unlike my current employer which just goes to show that if you put in the effort and are alway prepared to listen, others will too.

What I can’t understand is how exactly, as the BMA claim, such a proposal would put patients’ lives at risk. Is it because junior doctors would be a bit miffed because they wouldn’t get an extra SEVEN GRAND for working after 5pm on a Saturday, and so would deliberately botch operations to get their own back at the nasty Tory Government?  Grow up.

The starting salary for a junior doctor is currently just under £23,000 a year, but with extra payments for things such as unsociable hours, this can quite easily top £30,000. Junior doctors at the top end of the scale can earn in excess of £70,000.

I get tired most days.  Driving a bus while listening to passengers witter on about the last person to get off (and wonder if they’ll ever be seen again other than in the obituaries column of the Derbyshire Times) and having to think for every other retarded arsehole motorist in five hour spells with just the occasional few minutes layover is tiring, and one slip of the steering wheel – like a slip of the tired doctor’s scalpel – could prove fatal.  The difference is the doctor would just kill his one patient; I could kill a bus load.  Surely in any other occupation you’d kill for those terms doing a job you liked, so what on Earth makes junior doctors think they’re so special?

Thr similarities between the NHS and the once thriving coal industry is stark.  There was an insatiable demand for coal in the UK, a demand privately owned and run organisations would be grateful for.  But because it had a unionised workforce for whom striking was a sick habit, satisfying that demand became so expensive it simply wasn’t economic – or in the country’s interests – to artificially prop up the mines, and so more efficient alternatives became commonplace and gradually (and sadly) our mines closed.

After their day in the fresh air and on the telly he junior doctors will return to work and catch up on the backlog of work they’ve created – and doubtless moan about that, too.  But for the many thousands of bleeding hearts – surgery is not the answer.