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Opposition councillors at Suffolk County Council challenge decision on school transport cuts

Representatives from Thurston Community College attended the cabinet meeting to ask councillors questions. (2638654)
Representatives from Thurston Community College attended the cabinet meeting to ask councillors questions. (2638654)

Opposition councillors from all parties in Suffolk County Council have today decided to challenge the cabinet's decision to implement school transport cuts from September 2019.

The call in comes after the Cabinet approved plans to phase in the changes, which will see children receive free school transport to their nearest school from their first year, despite strong opposition from other councillors and members of the public.

Labour's Cllr Jack Abbott, who proposed the call in, said: “How the Cabinet can ignore all the holes in this policy proposal and railroad it through is a complete mystery to me.

"The strength of feeling across all the opposition groups is clear and this issue transcends party politics. This ill thought through, poorly formulated policy decision must be reversed to ensure educational attainment in Suffolk is not negatively impacted by this decision.”

The meeting on Tuesday, at which the policy was given the go-ahead, saw questions from 33 members of the public presented, with 14 attending in person to ask supplementaries.

They highlighted the schools' loss of pupils, potential teacher redundancies, curriculum changes and impact on children who will be forced to go to a different school from their older siblings as major concerns.

But the council's cabinet ultimately voted unanimously in favour of the proposals.

Cllr Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, who seconded Cllr Abbott's proposal said: “It is simply staggering that the Conservative Cabinet have agreed these changes on such a weak business case. We cannot stand by and watch as more children are likely to be injured or worse as a direct result of this move, we need a rethink.

"The report and financial modelling is inaccurate, incomplete and fundamentally flawed, I cannot see how this decision can be justified.”

The call in now means that the decision will have to be reviewed by the council's monitoring officer to ensure it was a fair, justified and proportionate decision.

Following the council's decision on Tuesday, Cllr Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “We can be in no doubt that we face significant financial challenges across the organisation. There are difficult decisions to be made as part of this and every effort is made to understand the issue, consult with our communities and listen to the views we receive to understand the impact of any decision we take. We are not alone in facing theses difficult choices, every council in Suffolk and across the country faces an ever reducing budget.

“To protect our statutory services and continue to offer such a wide range of services to Suffolk’s residents, we need to look at the policies surrounding school and post-16 travel which were introduced a long time ago. If we chose to do nothing, the cost of school and post-16 travel would increase to £45million a year in the next decade and this is something we simply cannot afford.

“The recommendations, which have been approved by Cabinet following such a comprehensive consultation process through which we have listened to the concerns and considered the views of service users, schools and other stakeholders do consider how changes would impact communities and the education of children and their families.

“It has been tough, but I believe the balance is right. We now have a school travel service which is much more affordable, sustainable, and able to meet the growing future demands of Suffolk.”

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