Call for unity as major Suffolk school travel consultation launched

Published

Suffolk County Council has called for unity in efforts to find a long-term solution to providing affordable home to school transport.

People who give their views as part of a consultation on the future of school travel in Suffolk will be listened to carefully and have the opportunity to influence the final outcome, the council has said.

The two and half month consultation, which starts Tuesday 12 December, invites people to help the council shape the future of school and post-16 travel policies.

Suffolk County Council has already listened to headteachers and included additional options in the consultation document. The pledge today is to do more of the same as the authority seeks help to find a long-term solution to the funding issues facing home to school transport.

In Suffolk, £21 million of taxpayers’ money is spent per year getting children to and from school. Suffolk County Council has already introduced a number of efficiency changes to the service saving around £2.6 million.

Now, like many other councils across the country, the authority needs to consider making more significant changes. It is therefore consulting on changing its school and post-16 travel policies so the service can be affordable, sustainable, and capable of meeting growing demand in the future.

The council’s current school and post-16 travel policies go above legal requirements, which means around 2400 children and young people receive free/subsided school or post-16 travel that Suffolk County Council is not legally required to provide and that they wouldn’t get in many other parts of the country.

In addition, around 2400 children receive free travel to schools further away than legally required to provide.

The proposed consultation seeks views on changing these policies and includes three alternative options, pre-16 and post-16:

  • Option 1: In September 2019, change the school travel policy so that it is in line with the legal requirements.  This would mean implementing all the changes in one go, including ceasing free travel to the transport priority area schools where it is not the pupils’ nearest.
  • Option 2: From September 2019, introduce the changes year by year as a child joins or moves school so that it is in line with legal requirements. This means that we would introduce all the changes on a phased basis. This option would cost Suffolk County Council an estimated £8.8 million to implement.
  • Option 3: Make no changes to the school travel policy but make savings from other services provided by Suffolk County Council.

Suffolk County Council is also asking for feedback on several other matters, including using Rights of Way as part of the way distance to a school is measured and a range of local solutions, such as local collection hubs and opt-in to travel, which we have developed with a range of schools.

Suffolk County Council cabinet member for children's services, education and skills, Councillor Gordon Jones, said:

“Today we’re making a very clear and genuine pledge to listen. A considerable amount of work has been done to consider very carefully and thoroughly the feedback and issues that have been raised to date. But this is only the beginning and I’m calling for unity. I’m saying ‘let’s use this consultation to look at all the issues, discuss them and find sensible solutions together.’ This is a very serious and challenging issue to tackle, which we must in order to be able to afford to run the service in the future.
 
“I am confident that we are ready to start a public consultation. This is a huge challenge that Suffolk is facing, and I want all Suffolk residents to have the opportunity to help shape a solution that is right for Suffolk.”

The consultation will run from 12 December 2017 to 28 February 2018 and there will be a full programme of events and opportunities for discussion. This includes consultation workshops where you can consider themes from the consultation, the proposals and general questions and answer sessions.

We are also holding a Have Your Say event. This is an opportunity for you or a groups to present alternative options to a panel.

To book your place at any of the events and for full details, visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/schooltravel or
call 0345 603 1842, Mondays to Fridays from 8:30am to 6pm. Note that events may book up quickly. 

The findings from the consultation will be reported back to Cabinet along with a recommendation on the future school and post-16 travel policies. Any decision to change the policies would be made so that they can be implemented from September 2019 onwards. View the Cabinet paper online.