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Suffolk’s consultation on free school transport put on hold

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich

The planned consultation on the future of free school transport in Suffolk, which should have started on Monday, has been postponed.

Suffolk County Council’s Scrutiny Committee decided today to refer the matter back to the council’s Cabinet after members expressed concerns about whether the pre-consultation for it had been adequate.

The plan the council hoped to consult on would see 6,100 pupils would keep their entitlement but the county would ditch many of the non-statutory concessions it offers from 2019.

Legally, counties must provide transport to the ‘nearest suitable school’ if the distance is more than two miles for under eights, or three miles for eight to 16s, but Suffolk provides it to pupils living in the ‘transport priority area’ (TPA) of free schools – giving some a choice of places. That means 3,700 pupils (3.5 per cent) who are currently getting free transport to new free schools that are not deemed their ‘nearest suitable school’ will lose it.

In addition, it would start using rights of way when mapping the shortest walking routes to schools if the proposals were accepted.

Cabinet voted in favour of the consultation on September 12, but the next day Councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group successfully applied to call-in the decision, which meant the Scrutiny Committee had to re-examine the proposal.

It was proposed by Penny Otton (Liberal Democrat for Thedwastre South) and seconded by Councillor Andrew Stringer (Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, and Green Councillor for Upper Gipping). Councillors Robert Lindsay, Caroline Page and Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw supported the call-in application.

The call-in application cited a number of issues with the report which informed Cabinet’s decision. It criticised the lack of a full impact assessment, the expected impact on Educational attainment, increased car use in rural areas and the congestion that would accompany this.

Cllr Otton told the Scrutiny Committee: “There is a whopping great hole in the information. I ask the Scrutiny Committee to recommend a halt to this, but if not at least postpone the consultation until we have all the facts.”

The committee also heard from parents of students at Thurston Community School who said many would have no choice but to change schools if their school bus was removed.

The move now means that the consultation is put on hold until after the next Cabinet meeting on October 10.

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