Suffolk County Council’s Scrutiny Committee has today agreed with concerns raised by councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, and has told the Cabinet they will need to reconsider their decision to consult on changes to the school transport policy.
On 28 September 2017, the Scrutiny Committee heard evidence from the LDGI Group as to why the Cabinet’s decision should not be upheld. Councillors Penny Otton and Andrew Stringer, along with parents and teachers, spoke passionately about the damaging effects of the proposed policy change and the rushed nature of the consultation. Concerns were raised over the pre-consultation process and the engagement with key stakeholders such as schools, parents and bus companies, as well as the disgraceful lack of impact assessments.
Cllr Andrew Stringer also alerted the Committee to financial issues being faced in Essex, which decided to implement similar changes in 2015. Freedom of Information requests highlighted that Essex County Council had failed to achieve its savings targets following the policy change, and in fact suggested that the cost per pupil had increased as a result.
When taken to a vote, 7 members of the Conservative-dominated Scrutiny Committee voted in favour of referring the decision back to the Cabinet, whilst only 5 members voted against.
Cllr Penny Otton, who proposed the call-in, commented:
“This is an important first step in stopping this extremely harmful new policy. The decision of the Scrutiny Committee confirms our own concerns over the proposed consultation, which is rushed and lacks vital information.
Free school transport is vital for so many of our rural communities. I will not allow Suffolk County Council to harm families and children by taking this away, and will continue to do all I can to protect it.”