Suffolk County Council plans to 'phase in' school transport cuts from next year
A council has recommended that school transport cuts in Suffolk be implemented over a phased period, starting in September next year.
The decision will see Suffolk County Council introduce changes to the current system on a yearly basis, as children start school.
This was the second of three options considered by the public in the council's consultation, which ran from December until February. Option one would have seen the changes occur all at once while option three would have meant no changes to school transport and cuts made elsewhere.
Councillor Gordon Jones, who led the consultation, said: "We are phasing it in so that no child has to change school as a result of this policy. They would continue to get funded transport while at the school that they are currently in.
"We decided on that because it is the best thing for Suffolk children and their education and it also gives schools, parents, bus operators and families the time to come up with their own local solutions."
The plan going forward has been described by the council as an 'enhanced option two', which has seen changes made based on feedback given during the consultation.
The 'enhanced' plans mean that those living on the county border will be provided with transport to their nearest Suffolk school, rather than having to go to Norfolk, while students in Bury St Edmunds who are near a three tier school will be transported to the nearest two tier school provided they meet the criteria.
Parents will be required to opt in if their children qualify for funded travel and four-year-olds will also be provided with transport as part of the revised plans.
The cuts were proposed after it was revealed that £21 million of tax payers' money was spent on school transport each year - a figure that Cllr Jones said could rise to £45 million in the next 10 years.
But the consultation results, which were leaked last month, showed that option two was opposed by more than 80 per cent of those surveyed, while around 90 per cent opposed option one. Option three was supported by more than 80 per cent.
Cllr Penny Otton, spokesperson for the Suffolk Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, said: “We find it absolutely astonishing that, despite an almost unanimous rejection of Option 2 by the public, this Conservative administration is just ploughing ahead regardless. The educational, environmental and economic consequences of this policy have really not been thought through. The most disturbing aspect is that this move will not create the savings that the Conservatives wish to make.
"This is even more disappointing considering that, just one week ago, Matthew Hicks promised a new inclusive direction. The 90% will now feel completely excluded. This still remains, in our opinion, a hostile attack on rural communities."
But Cllr Jones said the council had 'listened' to those who took part in the consultation.
"The school and post-16 travel consultation has provided the local community with the opportunity to give us their views on the local solutions and offer alternative options to what is currently in place," he said.
"We have listened to and taken on board feedback from members of the public, schools and stakeholder and although we do need to make savings, we must also consider how changes to the policies would impact on children's education and their families. It's about balance, and I believe we have found it."
The proposals will be considered by the full council at a cabinet meeting on June 19.