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Changes to school transport upheld by review panel

PUBLISHED: 10:13 10 July 2018

Suffolk County Council headquarters; Endeavour House, Ipswich.

Suffolk County Council headquarters; Endeavour House, Ipswich.

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Changes to free school transport in Suffolk will go ahead from September 2019 as planned after a review panel upheld the decision.

Councillor Gordon Jones, Suffolk County CouncilCouncillor Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council

Suffolk County Council’s Conservative cabinet agreed on June 19 to phase in changes which means pupils will be eligible for free transport to their nearest school if it is two miles away.

Opposition parties united to call in the decision, reviewed at Monday’s scrutiny committee.

Seven members of the committee opted to uphold the decision while four voted for it to be reconsidered at cabinet. One councillor abstained.

Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesman 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.

Jack Abbott. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCILJack Abbott. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

“Clearly, they have no real interest in understanding the significant impact this will have on Suffolk’s families and schools.

Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, added: “The process behind this policy change has been an absolute farce.

“The Conservative administration have simply decided on the policy they want and are ignoring all evidence that suggests it might not be wise. What happened at scrutiny today just proves our point.”

The call-in raised a host of issues with how the decision was reached, including whether the financial modelling used to calculate the annual savings of £5.8million was sound and whether cabinet had been misled over the Consultation Institute’s involvement.

Green councillor Andrew Stringer.Green councillor Andrew Stringer.

Another concern raised was that a similar series of changes in Essex had not been adequately analysed as to whether the savings forecasted had been achieved.

But Gordon Jones, cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council, said: “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 on implementing the new policy, so we have a school and post-16 travel service which is affordable and sustainable.”

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