'Fight not over' after school transport cuts given go-ahead by Suffolk County Council
A council has decided to press ahead with controversial school transport cuts despite public outcry at a meeting on Tuesday.
Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted unanimously in favour of phasing in the new policy from September 2019, which will see children receive transport to their nearest school from their first year.
The meeting, held at the council’s headquarters in Ipswich, heard that 33 members of the public had submitted questions on the policy, with 14 attending on the day to ask supplementaries.
Helen Wilson, principal of Thurston Community College which is set to be hit the hardest by the cuts, was applauded by spectators as she accused the council of ‘ignoring’ her school’s concerns and warnings.
“You encouraged Thurston Community College to come up with a solution which was effective and sustainable which we did but that option was disregarded,” she said.
“You may have listened but you have not actually heard anything me or my teachers have told you about the detrimental impact this will have to education in Suffolk.”
The phasing in approach was the second of three options considered by the public during a consultation and was opposed by more than 80 per cent of those surveyed.
You may have listened but you have not actually heard anything me or my teachers have told you
Option one, which was opposed by more than 90 per cent, would have seen the changes implemented all at once, while the third option, which was supported by more than 90 per cent, would have seen cuts made elsewhere.
Cllr Gordon Jones, who led the consultation, said the decision to implement an ‘enhanced option two’ - with several changes made as a result of the consultation feedback - was a ‘balanced approach’.
“We are recommending to Cabinet the phased in approach, to protect the child’s education so as no child will need to change from their existing school because of this policy change,” he said.
“This protection was raised by a number of parents, and will help to give schools, local communities, families and bus operators time to adapt to a fully implemented nearest school policy.”
But Mrs Wilson described the council’s decision as ‘disappointing and frustrating’.
“I understand the council have to save money but I believe we could have saved as much if not more money without the detrimental impact we can be certain this policy will have,” she said.
“What we’ll do now is to continue to work together in the knowledge that the policy is now going to change and to continue to do our best for current and future generations of Thurston Community College students. It’s onwards and upwards.”
Both Cllr Jones and Cllr Matthew Hicks, leader of the council, insisted that the council had listened to the public and said that more would be done to ensure a smooth transition into the new policy next year.
This includes the formation of a stakeholders group to assess the policy’s progress, further meetings with schools and continuous monitoring to ensure that financial goals are being met.
Cllr Jack Abbott, Labour spokesperson for children’s services, education and skills, described the process as ‘farcical from start to finish’.
“The message is clear. The Tories at Suffolk County Council are not listening to the communities that they claim to represent. They have just rubber-stamped a policy which they know will have severe impacts for Suffolk - it is totally irresponsible and sets a dangerous precedent,” he said.
“This fight is not over and we will continue to stand up for the schools and families of Suffolk.”
More by this authorRhoda Morrison