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Anger as council debate over free bus travel for 1950s women curtailed

PUBLISHED: 13:35 25 November 2019 | UPDATED: 19:04 25 November 2019

WASPI women taking part in a previous demonstration in Norwich city centre. Picture: Dominic Gilbert

WASPI women taking part in a previous demonstration in Norwich city centre. Picture: Dominic Gilbert

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Opposition councillors have accused the ruling Conservative group at Norfolk County Council of stifling debate over what can be done for women who lost out on free bus travel when their pension age was pushed back.

Pension protesters 'We are the Norfolk Broads' with councillors Emma Corlett, Stefan Aquarone and Mike Smith-Clare. Picture: Norfolk Broads - PAINPension protesters 'We are the Norfolk Broads' with councillors Emma Corlett, Stefan Aquarone and Mike Smith-Clare. Picture: Norfolk Broads - PAIN

To shouts of "shame on you" from campaigners from We are the Norfolk Broads - Pension Action in Norfolk in the public gallery, a Labour motion over the impact of the pension age change on Norfolk women was defeated.

But the Conservatives said they had already lobbied on the issue.

They said, although they would continue to do so, they had not been successful so far.

And they accused Labour of tabling the motion in support of their party's general election manifesto pledge over payments to those hit by pension changes.

Labour's Mike Smith-Clare, who is standing for Great Yarmouth in the election, tabled the motion to full council today.

The motion called in the leader of the council to write to the leaders of the main parties with candidates seeking election to seats in Norfolk and the new secretary of state in the next government urging them to commit to redress the unfairness resulting from the increase to the state pension age.

The motion also asked the council to support the reduction of the qualifying age for free bus travel and for the leader to include a request for funding to enable this in his letter to the next secretary of state.

Labour's Emma Corlett said other authorities, such as the West Midlands, have introduced free bus travel for women affected by the pension change.

The council had agreed in April to lobby the government over the impact of the pension age changes on 1950s women in Norfolk.

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Leader Andrew Proctor said they had lobbied, but not succeeded - and had not got the freedom or funding to set its own rules locally.

He said he could not support the motion, given it was tabled by a Labour parliamentary candidate in support of a Labour manifesto point.

He said the council would keep up lobbying, but had done what the April motion asked.

The Conservatives then voted to move to the vote without further debate.

However, Mr Smith-Clare said Mr Proctor had not written to the government until September - months after the original motion was passed.

The new motion was lost by 46 votes to 23.

Afterwards, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Maxfield tweeted: "Conservative councillors close down debate on motion on women's State Pension Age even though WASPI campaigners had sat patiently in the public gallery through three hours of staged party statements by Conservative councillors."

More than 100 members of Norfolk Broads PAIN (Pension Action in Norfolk) had written to the council "about the possibility of a concessionary bus pass" ahead of them getting their pensions. They said they would have been happy to pay a one-off annual fee to help with administration.

Passes are currently issued in Norfolk once the recipient is eligible for a state pension, in line with government guidance.

Speaking after the meeting, members of the campaign group said they were "disgusted" at what had unfolded in the meeting.

Lynn Nicholls said: "It's the first council meeting I've attended and it's really opened my eyes as to how the council works, it was quite disgusting.

"When the council agreed that motion in April it felt like the first time we'd won anything, but now that has all been washed away."

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