Suffolk County Council rushes forward with school transport consultation

Proposed cuts to free school transport which would see thousands of rural families facing a devastating decision are neither necessary nor justified, say councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group.

At a Cabinet meeting on 5 December 2017, it was once again decided to begin a consultation on changes to Suffolk County Council’s school transport policy, which could see 3700 children lose their free school transport. The very same decision was made in September, but was rejected by the council’s Scrutiny Committee following a call-in by councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group.

Opposition councillors have questioned why innovative alternative solutions, such as an opt-in system, aren’t being properly explored by the Council prior to a consultation on extreme changes to the school transport policy. There is also concern over the lack of financial information made available within the Cabinet report and consultation document, which fails to specify the expected level of savings from a policy change.

Councillor Penny Otton, Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group spokesperson for Children’s Services and Education, stated:

“We do not understand why the Council has not trialled this alternative opt-in system first, before they consult on drastic changes to the school transport policy. This could be a very simple way to reduce the amount spent each year on school transport, without affecting any children who want or need transport to school.

A change in policy which would affect so many families must be an absolute last resort. With other options available, it is entirely unjustified.”

Councillor Andrew Stringer, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, commented:

“There are other ways we could approach this, which wouldn’t harm our rural communities – but the Council simply aren’t listening. What makes it worse is that they have failed to provide any evidence whatsoever that their policy change could actually save us money.

All we have to do is look at Essex, where significant savings were only made prior to the introduction of this community-splitting policy, to understand just how unlikely it is that real savings can be made.”

The Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group remain concerned over the lack of impact research conducted by the Council. As with the original Cabinet report, which was deemed inadequate by the Council’s Scrutiny Committee, there is no mention of the impact a policy change could have on educational attainment, increased car use and congestion, and school viability. Without this information, it will be impossible for the public to make informed decisions in response to the consultation.

Many parents and teachers were present at the Cabinet meeting today and highlighted their concerns with the proposed policy change. Councillor Otton urged the Cabinet to listen to these fears:

“I strongly believe that a policy change is not the right way forward, but I accept that the Cabinet has decided to go to public consultation. However, I challenge the Cabinet to pledge that, if the consultation clearly shows that parents reject the proposal to scrap free school transport, then they will accept this and not go ahead with these plans.”

 

Notes:

  1. The Cabinet report from 5 December 2017 is available here (Agenda Item 6).
  2. Details of the Scrutiny Committee’s decision on 28 September 2017, along with the LDGI Group’s call-in, are available here.
  3. The original Cabinet report from 12 September 2017 is available here (Agenda Item 10).
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