Controversial Suffolk school transport plans get the final go-ahead

Suffolk County Council offices, Endeavour House. Picture: ARCHANT

Suffolk County Council offices, Endeavour House. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: ARCHANT

Changes to free school transport in Suffolk will go ahead from September 2019 as planned after a review panel upheld the decision this morning.

Suffolk County Council’s Conservative cabinet unanimously agreed on June 19 to phase in changes which means pupils will only be eligible for free school transport to their nearest school if it is two miles away or more.

Opposition parties united to call in the decision which was reviewed at today’s scrutiny committee.

Seven members of the committee opted to uphold the decision while four voted for it to return to cabinet for reconsideration. One councillor abstained.

Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesman who proposed the call-in, said: “Clearly I’m really disappointed that the Tories on the scrutiny committee decided to reject the evidence in front of them by falling into line and waving through a policy they know to be severely flawed.

“I find it incredible that, despite there being 19 points accepted from the call-in, the Tories were only able to muster a few questions between them.

“Clearly, they have no real interest in understanding the significant impact this will have on Suffolk’s families and schools.

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“Whilst I’m not surprised, I had hoped that they would have stood up for their constituents and ensured that this policy was fit for purpose.”

Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, added: “The process behind this policy change has been an absolute farce.

“The Conservative administration have simply decided on the policy they want and are ignoring all evidence that suggests it might not be a wise decision. What happened at scrutiny today just proves our point.

“The debate and critical thinking was minimal – they clearly just wanted to push this policy through.”

The call-in raised a host of issues with how the decision was reached, including whether the financial modelling used to calculate the annual savings of £5.8million was sound and whether cabinet had been misled over the Consultation Institute’s involvement.

Another concern raised was that a similar series of changes in Essex had not been adequately analysed as to whether the savings forecasted had been achieved.

But Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said it had been handled correctly.

“The right decision on school and post-16 travel has been made today.

“There can be no doubt this is one of the most difficult decisions the council has had to take,” he said.

“I know some are not happy with the recommendations for change, but the fact is, as we have clarified today, the correct process has been followed.

“It is now important we focus our time on implementing the new policy, so we have a school and post-16 travel service which is affordable, sustainable, and able to meet the growing future demands of Suffolk.”

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