A joint opposition call-in on school transport cuts has been defeated, with the Conservative-majority Scrutiny Committee voting to push forward a policy change that will see thousands of children across Suffolk lose their free school transport.
Cllr Jack Abbott, Labour Education Spokesperson and proposer of the call-in, commented:
“Clearly I’m really disappointed that the Tories on the Scrutiny Committee decided to reject the evidence in front of them by falling into line and waving through a policy they know to be severely flawed.
I find it incredible that, despite there being 19 points accepted from the call-in, the Tories were only able to muster a few questions between them. Clearly, they have no real interest in understanding the significant impact this will have on Suffolk’s families and schools.
Whilst I’m not surprised, I had hoped that they would have stood up for their constituents and ensured that this policy was fit for purpose.”
Cllr Andrew Stringer, Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, commented:
“The process behind this policy change has been an absolute farce. The Conservative administration have simply decided on the policy they want and are ignoring all evidence that suggests it might not be a wise decision. What happened at Scrutiny today just proves our point. The debate and critical thinking was minimal – they clearly just wanted to push this policy through.
It is clear the Conservative administration have traded their “greenest” county aspiration to become the “meanest”. Even if you don’t have children in education this policy will affect congestion on our roads and the health of our residents, whilst possibly not saving any money at all.”
The call-in was proposed by opposition councillors from the Labour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent groups. It challenged the robustness of the Cabinet’s decision on four main grounds:
- There is concern at the quality and reliability of the financial modelling;
- Whether the Cabinet were fully informed of the role of the Consultation Institute;
- Whether there was enough weight given to the experience of Essex County Council;
- Whether the policy change would contradict Suffolk’s “Greenest County” ambitions.
At the Scrutiny meeting, it was clear that many aspects of the call-in had not been properly considered. Councillors and officers could not explain why they had failed to scrutinise and analyse data provided by Essex County Council, which implemented a similar policy change in 2014. Furthermore, a member of the public with extensive accountancy experience also questioned the robustness of the financial modelling, but these concerns were not properly addressed.
Despite this, seven Conservative members of the committee voted against referring the policy back to the Cabinet, with only one abstention. The call-in was therefore rejected and the policy change will go ahead.