‘Overwhelming’ response to Suffolk school transport cuts shows ‘huge impact’ it is feared to have
A controversial consultation on Suffolk school transport cuts is claimed to have attracted more responses than any other in recent history – with results due to be announced this month.
Suffolk County Council (SCC) confirmed, following a Freedom of Information request, that its consultation had 4,208 responses.
Parents were asked for views on whether free transport should be removed for all home-to-school journeys except to the nearest school – whether the student lives in its catchment area or not.
The proposals received fierce opposition – particularly in rural areas where the cuts are feared to be hardest felt. More than 8,000 people signed a petition calling for SCC to withdraw the proposal.
Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said the response showed this was an issue 'which has had the highest level of the engagement of any consultation the council has ever done'.
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Mr Abbott suggested the strength of feeling demonstrated the 'huge impact' parents and schools fear the change will bring.
He said it was particularly significant that many schools had spoken out against the changes.
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'This is something they are not usually liable to do,' he added.
'But with so many schools suffering real-terms budget cuts, I think this is almost the straw that broke the camel's back.'
Given the council's claims it was listening to people's views, Mr Abbott said it was important the response to the consultation thoroughly investigated the alternatives being proposed.
'If they decided to go ahead with these changes, despite 85pc of respondents saying they don't support them, they might find that people stop engaging and dismiss their promises as merely hot air,' he added.
Gordon Jones, who is responsible for education at SCC, said the consultation was carried out because 'it's such an important decision affecting thousands of people and involving over £21m of taxpayers' money'.
'Those results are currently being analysed and will be reported in June, alongside all the other information we have available, so that our cabinet will be able to make an informed decision in public,' he added.
'I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who participated in the consultation. We received an overwhelming amount of feedback, which demonstrates just how important the decision is.'
A report is due on June 11.