Suffolk County Council's school bus cuts decision set to be upheld, says report
A council’s decision to implement school transport cuts looks set to go ahead, despite being called in by opposition councillors.
Suffolk County Council’s cabinet agreed to phase in the changes from September 2019, which will see children only receive free transport to their nearest school, provided it is two miles away or more.
The call in was proposed by Labour councillor Jack Abbott and seconded by Cllr Andrew Stringer, the leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group.
It was successful on three fronts - the reliability of the financial modelling, whether the Cabinet was fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute and whether there was enough weight given to the experience of Essex County Council who actually had a rise in mainstream home to school transport costs when they implemented the same nearest school policy.
The decision is due to be reviewed by a scrutiny committee on Monday, July 9, but papers published ahead of the meeting recommend that the committee upholds the council’s decision, stating that “officers remain confident that the modelling is open and transparent”.
The report said: “It is recommended that the scrutiny committee reject this call in and endorse the cabinet decision making process, allowing the decision to be implemented.”
It continued that scrutiny and assurances by Essex County Council during its changes should “give the cabinet confidence that recommendations within the cabinet paper will achieve the objectives”.
Next week’s committee can choose to reject the call-in and uphold the original decision, refer it back to the cabinet setting out the reasons why it should be reconsidered or refer to full council.
Cabinet member for education Gordon Jones, who led the public consultation into the cuts, said: “It’s part of the democratic process and I look forward to the scrutiny meeting."
Labour’s education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “In all honesty, some of the council’s responses are a little embarrassing.
“Even now, after all this time, we are still failing to receive adequate answers to many of our straightforward, reasonable questions.
“I think that people will find the council’s position to be presumptive, dismissive and partial, falling someway short of being balanced and objective.
“I know that they are probably just trying to shore up a policy they know to be severely flawed, but it shows little regard for the thousands of families that this will affect.
“This is not how we should develop and deliver policies of such fundamental importance.”
Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said: “There are no surprises there but what we need to question is where is the financial modelling? That is what we have been saying.
“All of the modelling is per pupil when we know the expense is per bus.
“Even if it is how many buses are there now and how many are there likely to be – it’s not that difficult.”