Councillors, parents and teachers express grave concern as Cabinet prepares to look at school transport policy again

Suffolk County Council have announced that the Cabinet will once again be considering the need to change the Council’s home to school transport policy.

On 5 December 2017, the Cabinet will be presented a report calling for a public consultation on the need to change the current policy, which will see 3700 children lose their free school transport1. Councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group are urging the Cabinet to ensure that they fully consider all issues associated with a change in policy, and listen to the concerns expressed by parents and teachers during the pre-consultation period.

The initial decision to go to consultation, made by the Cabinet on 12 September, was called-in to the Council’s Scrutiny Committee by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group. The Scrutiny Committee agreed with the concerns of the LDGI Group, and stated that “the pre-consultation had been inadequate in that it had been poorly timed, taking place over the summer holiday period, and Cabinet had not been provided with sufficient information from the pre-consultation nor about the potential implications of the proposals, prior to making a decision to consult upon them.”2

As a result of the Scrutiny Committee’s decision, officers and councillors from Suffolk County Council agreed on the need for more thorough engagement and pre-consultation with stakeholders. Two workshops were organised in November.

Cllr David Wood, LDGI Group Leader, attended one of these workshops and expressed concern over the content:

“I am not convinced that Suffolk County Council are really considering any innovative solutions to this problem, or listening to the numerous concerns of parents and schools. A consultation will only be effective if the Council are willing to truly listen to those who will be affected.”

Cllr Andrew Stringer added:

“I am very concerned that the Council are treating the overspend of the school transport budget in isolation. This is a hugely complex problem, and we need to make sure that the potential impact on both educational attainment and increased congestion are considered as part of the consultation.

There has been a distinct lack of discussion over SEND transport, which is where the majority of the overspend in the Home to School Transport budget is. To create a better policy, the Council needs to forensically examine all aspects of the current policy and work hard to come up with creative cost-saving measures that will not harm any children or families in the county.”

Many parents and teachers are still worried about the proposed changes, and the effect that a change in policy could have. Cllr Penny Otton stated:

“I have spoken with parents and teachers at Thurston, who are likely to be amongst the worst affected by a change in the Council’s school transport policy. It is clear that many of the families, particularly those with 2 children, will not be able to afford the cost of school transport, and as a result we will see a huge increase in congestion.

‘Tight budgets’ are being used to justify this policy, but I am not convinced that Suffolk County Council will make the savings they are predicting. Essex County Council, who brought in similar changes, have struggled to meet their savings targets, and I see no evidence that Suffolk will do any better.”

 

Notes:

  1. Original Cabinet report from 12 September 2017 is available here  – see “Agenda Item 10: School Travel”
  2. The Cabinet Report for 5 December 2017 is available here – see “Agenda Item 6: School Travel”

 

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