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Suffolk school transport cuts to go ahead as call in is defeated by Scrutiny Committee

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)

Cuts to school transport in Suffolk will go ahead from September 2019, after a joint opposition call in was defeated today.

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.

But the Scrutiny Committee today ruled that the original decision had been made in accordance with Scrutiny Procedure Rules, with seven Conservative members of the committee voting against referring the policy back to cabinet and only one abstention.

Cllr Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesperson who proposed the call-in, said: “Clearly I’m really disappointed that the Tories on the Scrutiny Committee decided to reject the evidence in front of them by falling into line and waving through a policy they know to be severely flawed.

"I find it incredible that, despite there being 19 points accepted from the call-in, the Tories were only able to muster a few questions between them. Clearly, they have no real interest in understanding the significant impact this will have on Suffolk’s families and schools.

"Whilst I’m not surprised, I had hoped that they would have stood up for their constituents and ensured that this policy was fit for purpose.”

The call in, which was seconded by leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, Cllr Andrew Stringer, challenged the decision in terms of financial modelling, whether the cabinet was fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute, whether there was enough weight given to the experience of Essex County Council and whether the policy would contradict Suffolk's 'greenest county' ambitions.

"The process behind this policy change has been an absolute farce," said Cllr Stringer.

"The Conservative 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. The debate and critical thinking was minimal – they clearly just wanted to push this policy through.

"It is clear the Conservative administration have traded their “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 possibly not saving any money at all.”

Cllr Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, who led the public consultation, said: “The right decision on school and post-16 travel has been made today.

“There can be no doubt this is one of the most difficult decisions the council has had to take. I know some are not happy with the recommendations for change, but the fact is, as we have clarified today, the correct process has been followed.

“It is now important we focus our time on implementing the new policy, so we have a school and post-16 travel service which is affordable, sustainable, and able to meet the growing future demands of Suffolk.”

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