School transport review meeting recommended to uphold decision

Pupils from Thurston Community College are pleading with Suffolk county councillors to help them kee

Pupils from Thurston Community College are pleading with Suffolk county councillors to help them keep their free school transport Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet last month agreed to introduce changes which means pupils will only be eligible for free school transport to their nearest school, so long as it is two miles away or more.

The cabinet opted to pursue a phased introduction from September 2019, which it is claimed will save £5.8million per year and avoid costs of £40m over a 10 year period.

Opposition parties united to call-in the decision for a review, which is set to take place on Monday, July 9 at the county council’s scrutiny committee, but papers published ahead of that meeting recommend upholding the decision.

The report said: “It is recommended that the scrutiny committee reject this call in and endorse the cabinet decision making process, allowing the decision to be implemented.”

Cabinet member for education Gordon Jones said: “It’s part of the democratic process and I look forward to the scrutiny meeting Monday week.”

The challenge to the decision was issued on a host of grounds, including allegations that people had been misled over the Consultation Institute’s involvement, whether the financial modelling used to calculate savings was reliable and whether analysis of similar changes in Essex had gained the level of savings stated.

The report ahead of next week’s meeting said it was “arguably unmanageable” to calculate savings by bus instead of per pupil, and said that “officers remain confident that the modelling is open and transparent”.

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The report continued that scrutiny and assurances by Essex County Council during its changes should “give the cabinet confidence that recommendations within the cabinet paper will achieve the objectives”.

Next week’s committee can choose to reject the call-in and uphold the original decision, refer it back to the cabinet setting out the reasons why it should be reconsidered or refer to full council.

Labour’s education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “In all honesty, some of the council’s responses are a little embarrassing.

“Even now, after all this time, we are still failing to receive adequate answers to many of our straightforward, reasonable questions.

“I think that people will find the council’s position to be presumptive, dismissive and partial, falling someway short of being balanced and objective.

“I know that they are probably just trying to shore up a policy they know to be severely flawed, but it shows little regard for the thousands of families that this will affect.

“This is not how we should develop and deliver policies of such fundamental importance.”

Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said: “There are no surprises there but what we need to question is where is the financial modelling? That is what we have been saying.

“All of the modelling is per pupil when we know the expense is per bus.

“Even if it is how many buses are there now and how many are there likely to be – it’s not that difficult.”

During the consultation more than 3,600 responses were received, as well as a petition signed by 8,600 people opposing the plans.