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Fresh concerns over school bus transport consultation with one week remaining

PUBLISHED: 17:55 21 February 2018

Suffolk County Council headquarters. Picture: ARCHANT

Suffolk County Council headquarters. Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

Renewed concerns have been raised over the handling of proposals to cut free home-to-school transport for thousands of children in Suffolk.

An estimated 3,700 pupils, mainly in rural areas, could lose their free school bus service, with families forced to arrange their own travel arrangements, if the proposals go ahead. Consultation closes in less than a week.

Suffolk County Council (SCC) is looking at cutting £3m from the £21m home to school transport budget by scrapping bus services for children who attend schools which are not the closest to their home. Legally, SCC only has to provide transport to the closest school. This could save £3m year but would result in around 3,700 students losing out. Headteachers warn it will drastically reduce pupil numbers and funding.

The consultation is assessing a number of scenarios: to ‘do nothing’ and an ‘incremental basis’, in which children who currently receive free transport would keep it but new starters would not. It could also see staggered school opening times introduced to help bus schedules.

Last night, Andrew Stringer, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, said: “I am very concerned that there continue to be serious omissions in the information provided by Suffolk County Council. Spending on SEN (special educational needs) and mainstream transport is repeatedly conflated in the consultation documents. In fact, the cost pressures are not from the mainstream transport budget, but are instead the result of a lack of innovative thinking into how we can safely and efficiently transport children with special educational needs to school.

“They have provided no real evidence that a policy change could achieve any real savings. Figures ranging from £200,000 to £3m have been carelessly flung around, but no convincing evidence has been produced.”

In response, Gordon Jones, education cabinet member at SCC, stood by his statement: “With only a week to go until the consultation closes, I would encourage those that haven’t responded to the consultation, to read the proposals and complete the survey. This is an opportunity for all Suffolk residents to have their say about how council tax is spent.”

Over 3,500 people have responded to the consultation, which ends on February 28.

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