Independent review of controversial school transport changes in Suffolk as apology issued for problems
An independent review led by Suffolk’s chief fire officer is set to take place over controversial school transport changes.
The review was announced at a fiery meeting of Suffolk County Council’s full council on Tuesday afternoon, in which new Conservative education chief Mary Evans apologised to affected parents and vowed for lessons to be learnt.
She said: “The implementation has been far from ideal and we will be looking at how we can do better.
“I do apologise to those parents who have struggled to get their bus passes, but everyone who applied on time has now got it.”
“There are lessons to be learned and I am determined they will be learnt.
“We will be holding a review to be led by a senior independent officer who has not been involved in either the development or implementation of our home to school travel policy. I am delighted to announce that Mark Hardingham, our chief fire officer,will head up the review.
“He and I are aware that time is of the essence. We have had one brief conversation and are meeting on Monday.”
The announcement came during a debate on a motion put forward by the Labour group calling for three changes to the divisive policy – exemption for siblings already attending a school that was no longer deemed their nearest, a resolution of split villages and a spare seat guarantee.
Those changes had been put forward by parent campaigners, who believe the announcement was an admission that the policy was wrong.
Fiona Macaulay from the parent campaign group said: “We have had, effectively, a public apology for the chaotic implementation of this new policy. However, it doesn’t go far enough – it should be an apology to all parents who have even been put in this situation by the change of this policy.”
Despite some Conservatives raising issues with the transport changes, the motion failed to gain enough votes, rejected by 37 votes against to 20 for.
Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “The personal experiences of parents has been intolerable at times.
“This is an opportunity to start making amends and realise the council has made a mistake.
“This is arguably the biggest issue that has come to the council since I have been here.”
Councillor Caroline Page, transport spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said: “This motion called for three sensible, common-sense changes to a disastrous school transport policy. We predicted these issues two years ago and warned the Conservative administration over and over again – they failed to listen back then and, predictably, they once again failed to listen today.
“There was no justification for voting down this motion. We attempted to work with the Conservatives who indicated they would support part of the motion on split villages and siblings, and so amended the motion to reflect this. We’re very sorry that this was not successful, and will continue to do all we can to improve this disastrous policy for families.”
More by this authorJason Noble, Local Democracy Reporter