Suffolk insists ‘we are listening’ as it launches school transport debate
- Credit: Archant
As the public consultation into controversial plans to reform school transport goes live today, officials at Suffolk County Council insist that they are listening to the concerns of parents and teachers.
The county's cabinet last week voted to go ahead with the consultation despite concerns from many people in rural parts of Suffolk that the changes could make it impossible for children to continue at their schools if transport is withdrawn.
It is looking to make the changes to save part of the £21m bill for school transport in the county.
The two-and-a-half-month consultation invites people to help the council shape the future of school travel policies.
But it says that, like many other councils across the country, it needs to consider making more significant changes.
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It is therefore consulting on changing its school travel policies so the service can be affordable, sustainable, and capable of meeting growing demand in the future. The council says its current school travel policies go above legal requirements, which means around 2,400 children receive free/subsidised school travel that Suffolk County Council is not legally required to provide and that they wouldn't get in many other parts of the country.
Council cabinet member for education Gordon Jones, said: 'Today we're making a very clear and genuine pledge to listen.
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'This is only the beginning and I'm calling for unity. I'm saying 'let's use this consultation to look at all the issues, discuss them and find sensible solutions together.'
'This is a very serious and challenging issue to tackle, which we must in order to be able to afford to run the service in the future.'
Penny Otton, Liberal Democrat, spokeswoman for education said: 'I commend all of the headteachers, governors and parents who have already publicly spoken out against this harmful policy – and I sincerely hope that Suffolk County Council has been listening very carefully to their concerns.'
Labour opposition spokesman Jack Abbott said: 'To be honest the county council has already united everyone on this issue. The parents and teachers are all united against it!'
The consultation will run until February 28 and there will be a full programme of events and opportunities for discussion.
Public consultation events
There are six public consultation events planned for different parts of the county during January. These are:
January 16, 7pm-8.30pm: Kesgrave Conference Centre, Twelve Acre Approach, Kesgrave.
January 17, 7pm-8.30pm: Eye Community Centre, Magdalen Street, Eye.
January 18, 7-8.30pm: River Stour Trust Visitor Education Centre, Dove House, Great Cornard
January 22, 7-8.30pm: Beccles Public Hall, Smallgate, Beccles
January 23, 7-8.30pm: Lakenheath Pavilion, Eriswell Road, Lakenheath
January 26, five sessions between 2pm and 7.30pm: West Suffolk House,
Western Way, Bury St Edmunds
Further details on the options for the future of school transport in Suffolk can be found on the consultation website: www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel