A joint opposition call-in on school transport cuts has been defeated, with the Conservative-majority Scrutiny Committee voting to push forward a policy change that will see thousands of children across Suffolk losing their free school transport.
The decision to implement the cuts on a phased in basis from next year was made on Tuesday, June 19 but went to a Scrutiny Committee today after a call-in was found to be successful on three counts. However, the Committee today voted to ignore the call-in and ruled that the original decision would stand.
Cllr Andrew Stringer, Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, seconded the call-in and commented:
“The process behind this policy change has been an absolute farce. The 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.
It is clear the Conservative administration has traded the “greenest” county aspiration to become the “meanest”. Even if you don’t have children in education this policy will affect congestion on our roads and the health of our residents, whilst damaging possibly not saving any money at all.”
The call-in was proposed by opposition councillors from the Labour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent groups. It challenged the robustness of the Cabinet’s decision on four main grounds:
- There is concern at the quality and reliability of the financial modelling;
- Whether the Cabinet were fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute;
- Whether there was enough weight given to the experience of Essex County Council;
- Whether the policy change would contradict Suffolk’s “Greenest County” ambitions.
At the Scrutiny meeting, it was clear that many aspects of the call-in had not been properly considered. Councillors and officers could not explain why they had failed to scrutinise and analyse data provided by Essex County Council, which implemented a similar policy change in 2014. Furthermore, a member of the public with extensive accountancy experience also questioned the robustness of the financial modelling, but these concerns were not properly addressed.
Despite this, seven Conservative members of the committee voted against referring the policy back to the Cabinet, with only one abstention. The call-in was therefore rejected and the policy change will go ahead.