After the election of a new Leader of Suffolk County Council, LibDem Cllr Penny Otton wrote to the EADT to summarise all the ways in which our party and group have attempted to assist the administration in providing a fair, transparent and effective outcome for Suffolk school transport users, their families, and the communities in which they live.
Despite the former leader’s ‘We Are Listening’ programme, we found that listening was one thing that was not occurring when we – or our constituents spoke out against these proposals.
The new leader, Matthew Hicks, has promised to be more inclusive and to work with the community. This will be a good time for his promises to be put into action.
Suffolk’s controversial proposals to change eligibility for free school transport will be discussed by the Cabinet on 19 June.
Many families and communities have expressed grave concerns. As the ‘councillor on the ground’ I can confirm students attending Thurston Community College will be the worst affected.
The new leader of Suffolk County Council, Matthew Hicks, has promised to be more inclusive and to work with the community. This will be a good time for those promises to be put into action.
I and my Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group have worked tirelessly to oppose this policy change. Along with Cllr Andrew Stringer, I called the original proposal in to the Scrutiny Committee. We pointed out the flaws in the proposals, criticised the lack of financial information and impact assessments, and successfully delayed the consultation. We asked that that an alternative proposal, fully researched by the head of Thurston Community College and likely to save the Council more money, was given proper consideration. This did not happen.
We put a motion to council in March, calling for a full council debate on the proposals. This was voted out by the Conservative administration. We requested to hold a Council meeting “In Assembly”, whereby experts, members of the public and councillors could work together to find a truly workable solution. This was again dismissed, and the option to hold an “In Assembly” session has now been deleted from the Constitution.
At every point we have been met with a brick wall by this administration. Maybe they need to hear it from Suffolk residents themselves? More people responded to this consultation than any other consultation in recent years – and 90% of them opposed the changes. That demonstrates just how strongly parents, pupils, carers, teachers, governors and the community feel that this policy change is so wrong. How can this be ignored?
I sincerely hope the new leader is a man of his word, and realises these proposals must not go ahead.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Penny Otton (Thedwastre South)
Spokesperson for Education – Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group