The stalled consultation on free school transport in Suffolk should restart next month with the public being asked to consider three options.
Suffolk County Council’s cabinet will look again at its consultation plans next Tuesday after being told by the council’s Scrutiny Committee to think again about proposals it put forward in September because it was felt the pre-consultation with interested parties had not been thorough enough.
But this time the public will be asked to consider three options.
Option One is as before with a wholesale change in September 2019 to Suffolk only offering the services required by law, which would lead to 1,050 pupils losing entitlement to free transport and 1,950 losing it to their current school but being able to get free travel to their nearest school.
Option Two would see children who currently get free transport keeping it, but new starters facing the same journey would not, so it would take until 2025 for Suffolk to only be offering the legal minimum, costing an extra £8.8 million.
Option Three is to do nothing, but this would involve making savings in other areas.
Unveiling the consultation today Gordon Jones, Cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said of Option Three: “I don’t think it would be limited to transport and education – it’s across the council. We need to make savings in transport and we’re trying to get a system that’s fit for purpose in 2019.”
Since September the council has consulted 200 people and held 28 events, discussing the issues with heads, parents’ representatives, governors, bus operators and others.
Cllr Jones said he had to accept the Scrutiny Committee’s view on the previous pre-consultation, which was not a legal requirement, but the Consultation Institute was now satisfied with what they have done.
“I think we’re ready to go for certain,” Cllr Jones said. “The consultation is a complex one because almost every village affected will come at it from a different angle. ”
That is why the proposals include 12 ‘local solutions’ to try to tailor travel to needs. They include hub collections where children are picked up in a village instead of the bus stopping near outlying homes.
They want schools to look at staggering start times so where two buses are needed to serve two schools starting at 8.45am only one bus would be required if one school started 15 minutes earlier.
Schools served by the same bus could arrange staff training days, so the bus is not kept running for just one school.
They also suggest using larger vehicles: instead of four taxis, one minibus could do a rural route.
If the consultation is approved, it will run from December 12 to February 28.
David Wood, the county’s Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group Leader, said: “I am not convinced that Suffolk County Council are really considering any innovative solutions to this problem, or listening to the numerous concerns of parents and schools.”
The committee documents are available here