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Stakeholder group to be formed to assess impact of Suffolk school transport shake-up

PUBLISHED: 15:02 20 June 2018 | UPDATED: 17:16 20 June 2018

Pupils from Thurston Community College who pleaded with Suffolk County Councillors to help them keep their free school transport. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Pupils from Thurston Community College who pleaded with Suffolk County Councillors to help them keep their free school transport. Picture: GREGG BROWN

A stakeholder group will be formed to assess the progress of new school transport proposals in Suffolk, it has been confirmed.

Councillor Gordon Jones, Suffolk County CouncilCouncillor Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council

The controversial changes were approved at Tuesday’s Suffolk County Council cabinet meeting, and means that free school transport will only be available to pupils’ nearest school if it is two miles away or further.

Council leader Matthew Hicks and education cabinet member Gordon Jones both said it was not the end of the matter, and they would continue working with schools and communities to ensure a smooth transition from September next year.

As part of the plans, it was confirmed that a stakeholder group will be formed to assess the changes.

Mr Jones said: “[It will be a] cross interest group that will be to make sure there are savings, it’s workable and make any changes as appropriate.

“I think it will be a cross section and I will propose that group does report back to cabinet on a regular basis.”

It is not yet clear how many people will be part of the group, or whether parents and schools will be involved, but Mr Jones said that it is important to involve a wide membership and would involve Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association, Suffolk Association of Secondary Heads, councillors and officers and those in the further education sector.

Opposition education spokesman from the county council’s Labour group, Jack Abbott, said: “There is no detail on who will be on it, whether they will be truly independent, what their function will be and what powers they will be given - it really underlines the complete lack of clarity that has run throughout this entire process.

“It is imperative that this group will be entirely independent of the council, draw from a wide cross section of stakeholders covering the whole of Suffolk and be given proper powers to hold the cabinet to account should the predicted damaging impacts of this policy be realised.”

It is understood opposition councillors are planning to request a call-in of the decision.

If approved, it is expected to go to the county council’s scrutiny committee in July for discussion.

Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democract, Green and Independent Group, said more analysis of the data put forward was needed, as well as the impacts of the transport changes in Essex.

He added: “If this decision doesn’t deliver the savings but does disrupt education then nobody has won.

“What’s important is the best policy for Suffolk. If the stakeholder group helps us get there that’s good, but a proper analysis is needed.”

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