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Major shake-up of free school bus service will hit parents and schools, Labour fears

PUBLISHED: 20:13 27 November 2017 | UPDATED: 20:13 27 November 2017

Suffolk's school buses are facing major changes. Picture: JAMES HARGRAVE

Suffolk's school buses are facing major changes. Picture: JAMES HARGRAVE

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Parents and schools may have to fork out if major proposals to overhaul the free school transport system in Suffolk are approved, it is feared.

Suffolk County Council (SCC) is aiming to cut £3m from the £21m home-to-school transport budget by scrapping bus services for hundreds of children, mainly in rural areas, who attend schools which are not the closest to their home. Legally, the council only has to provide transport to the nearest school, not the school chosen by parents.

But transport is being provided for some out-of-catchment schools.

The stalled consultation is set to restart next month, SCC today announced. Two new options were unveiled along with the previous ‘wholesale change’ in which services only required by law would be provided.

The new ‘scenarios’ are ‘do nothing’, meaning savings would have to be found elsewhere, and an ‘incremental basis’, in which children who currently receive free transport would keep it but new starters on the same journey would not.

It would cost SCC £8.8m over the four years from September 2019, when the proposals would be implemented.

Jack Abbott, Labour’s education spokesman, said: “The bottom line is, this is a cut which is going to have to be met somewhere, and parents or schools are going to have to fork out. That’s a real concern. Schools are already under budget constraints. Are they going to have to look at things like breakfast clubs? Are parents going to have to change working hours to make this affordable?

“We need new ideas to meet this growing demand. We need a solution that works.”

The proposals include 12 ‘local solutions’ to tailor travel needs, such as staggering school opening times so one bus could serve two, and using larger vehicles, such as one minibus instead of four taxis.

Currently, around 2,400 students receive free or subsidised travel to schools or post-16 providers which SCC is not legally required to provide. Around 2,400 children get free travel to schools further away than legally required.

If the consultation is approved, it will run from December 12 to February 28. Gordon Jones, SCC’s education cabinet member, said the “do nothing’’ option would not be practical. “We need a system for the 2019 education landscape, not 1944. Catchment areas will be a thing of the past. Academies will be their own admission authorities.”

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