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For God's sake use some sense and abandon this daft school transport plan!

PUBLISHED: 05:30 12 September 2019

Suffolk County Council has mishandled changes to its school transport services. Picture: R.A FOWLER

Suffolk County Council has mishandled changes to its school transport services. Picture: R.A FOWLER

I've always had a fairly benign view of local councillors - I'm sure that the vast majority put themselves up for election to make life better (as they see it) for their local communities.

Gordon JonesGordon Jones

But I'm beginning to wonder if I should re-think this - certainly so far as the cabinet at Suffolk County Council is concerned.

I'm beginning to wonder if they've fallen victim to the Invasion of the Body Snatchers and been replaced by alien doppelgangers with little evidence of humanity or common sense in their souls.

I'd always thought the school transport changes as first announced about 18 months ago looked like a real mess - and something that would need a total rethink before it was implemented. It hasn't happened.

When Matthew Hicks was elected leader of the council last year on a promise of making the authority more responsive to what the public wanted, I thought this was the first policy he would put into the melting pot. He didn't.

And now it is looking as if the county council has totally lost sense in pursuing this brainless and heartless policy without a thought for the pain and anguish it is causing young children and their parents.

Frankly the county council's lack of humanity on this issues looking worse and worse by the day.

I appreciate that no one on the county council's cabinet is likely to have ever seen the Little Britain sketches of about 15 years ago featuring the "computer says no" jobsworth basically ignoring any common sense to rubber-stamp the computer's decision.

But that is exactly how cabinet member Gordon Jones and the team behind the school transport debacle comes across - blindly following a policy aimed at saving a tiny amount of money in a bid to save their face while causing misery across the county.

I cannot for the life of me understand why they are so insistent on exact distances (down to eight metres in one case) when calculating the school they will pay for transport to - unless they really are on a mission to destroy all school transport in the county.

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If you've got all the children in a village heading to one school apart from one family at the end of the road which is nearer to the other, what sense is there in sending a second bus/minibus/taxi in the other direction?

That ignores the fact that the children in the village probably know each other, that they are forming a sense of community and would naturally want to go to the same school. Does Suffolk County Council's cabinet not see there is any benefit in having a sense of community any more?

Mr Jones has shown no empathy with the pressures faced by children and families. In a radio interview recently, his only response when asked about a child being sent to a different school to his friends was: "We all face challenges in life."

I'm sorry, but we don't elect local councillors to set challenges for 11-year-old children. We elect them to ensure our voice is heard when issues are discussed.

Interestingly, I've spoken to two Tory councillors recently who are both really worried about the way the county is heading - on school transport and other issues.

They both expected Mr Hicks to drop the plans, and both have told me that the money involved on an annual basis is really very small - and a pinprick in comparison to the damage being done to the authority's reputation.

The council has also come under fire from all sides over the northern bypass for Ipswich, for its policy on children's centres, on special needs provision, and on many other key issues.

I've heard people within the council - and those who work with the authority from the outside - say it feels as if Suffolk County Council's political leadership is reverting to the days of a decade ago when Jeremy Pembroke was leader and Andrea Hill was chief executive.

What forced a major change then was the perception that the county council wasn't listening to the people of Suffolk. It was seen to be pressing ahead with what it thought was best without listening to what people wanted.

I don't know how long it will be before we reach that situation again - but certainly the arrogance we saw a decade ago and that was then removed is once again in evidence at Endeavour House.

It's not as bad - and hasn't yet really worked its way through to the senior officers at the council. But the senior councillors from the administration do need to take a long, hard look at themselves and how they are perceived by Suffolk residents.

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