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Tories revolt in Suffolk school transport row

PUBLISHED: 09:57 29 January 2018

Suffolk County Council headquarters. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk County Council headquarters. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Opposition to school transport cuts has taken a dramatic turn as leading Conservative councillors have openly criticised the Tory-led consultation.

In an act of defiance against the leadership, councillors have “done what is right for constituents” and called for the consultation to be stopped and the plans to be withdrawn.

Suffolk County Council has been holding a series of workshops to discuss the consultation with members of the public, but instead of winning some of the 6,000-strong list of people who are petitioning against the cuts, the meetings were attended by Tory councillors, some of whom spoke unfavourably about the consultation.

Joanna Spicer, county councillor for Blackbourn, said: “I don’t like disagreeing with my Conservative colleagues but I have been democratically elected to serve my constituents and I have to do what is right.

“The consultation itself is flawed and the proposals would set education in Suffolk back years. At a time when we are already underperforming, is this really what we need? I don’t think so and I will be telling the leadership to withdraw the consultation.”

Mrs Spicer’s ward would be mostly affected should the council’s plans to provide free school transport only to the nearest school go ahead, with 360 pupils in her division losing out.

Guy McGregor, county councillor for Hoxne and Eye, has also hit out against the plans.

He said: “We are extremely lucky here to have two absolutely wonderful schools and when headteachers and those saying that Tory proposals will be harmful to children’s education and might result in them having staffing problems then that is a huge issue for me.

“Suffolk is a rural county and we need to ensure that every child here is able to access the tools they need to succeed and make the best of themselves.”

Jessica Fleming, councillor for Hartismere, said: “I am concerned that schools and jobs will be affected. Families will be affected. The consultation is not clear at all. It makes no clear points about how much money would be saved and what would happen to schools that lose or gain extra students and what might be done for families who find that their nearest school is in another county, even. It has not been put together well at all.”

Former county council leader, Mark Bee said: “I would certainly echo the sentiments of my colleagues. The consultation should be stopped. There is huge opposition and the consultation has not been handled well. There are no real costings and the council’s own projections show that some really good schools would be enormously affected.”

Jim McAtear, Headteacher of Hartismere School in Eye said: “There are massive questions marks over the leadership at council level.

“Are all councillors being made aware of the true extent of this issue? There are massive questions about why this consultation is even going ahead and they have to be answered.”

Helen Wilson, headteacher at Thurston, added: “Councillors are listening to the arguments we have been making consistently since this was first proposed in September.

“Council leader Colin Noble now knows this policy will not save the money they were originally told. The little it might save is not worth the damage it would cause.”

Councillor Jack Abbott, Suffolk Labour spokesman for education, said: “There is now a cross-party consensus that these proposals will have a damaging effect. I urge Colin Noble to recognise the level of opposition within his own party and drop these divisive proposals.”

One of Suffolk County Council’s workshops left a headteacher in ‘despair’ after she was told the consultation ‘was not a referendum. there’ll be no counting of votes to decide’.

Susan Byles, head of Mildenhall College Academy which would lose 178 students under the proposals, attended the consultation meeting in Lakenheath last Tuesday. “I honestly cannot tell you how much this is wearing on me. I feel like everything we have worked so hard to achieve is about to be ripped apart and nobody cares.

“I’ve been to a few of these meetings and the atmosphere at this one was the worst I’ve seen.

“Councillors Robin Millar and Colin Noble were there and they talked as if this was a done deal.

“I asked if they would act on the responses and concerns they’d heard at the meetings and on the petition and they just effectively said no. It left me wondering if a decision had already been made.”

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