After Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet voted unanimously for undemocratic cuts to school transport changes, – ‘the option that nobody wanted,’ your LibDem Councillors (Leader and Transport Spokesperson, Caroline Page and LDGI Education Spokesperson Penny Otton ) are part of a cross-party opposition attempt to ‘call in’ the decision. Both councillors (and especially Penny Otton as ‘councillor on the ground’ for Thurston)have been very vocal on the subject
If the ‘call in’ is accepted, this means the decision will not go ahead until SCC’s scrutiny committee examines it fully.
The call-in was cross party, as was the unanimity of focus of the opposition questioning on Tuesday . Concerns focused the grounds whereby Cabinet discussed only the unpopular Option 2 (phased change) instead of the universally popular Option 3 (best described as ‘leave well alone.’) Lib Dem, Green and Labour questioning was forceful and forensic and took – literally – hours.
LibDem Leader Caroline Page queried the administration’s terms of reference. Was Suffolk’s offer genuinely “more generous” than the government minimum, when the government minimum covered urban and rural students indiscriminately, she asked? City students do not have 3 mile walks to their catchment school: city schools are closer and public transport is plentiful and cheap.
We were told how expensive our spend was- over £100 a student head as opposed to Salford’s £2. However, as Caroline pointed out, Salford has a total area of 8 sq miles, and it would be almost impossible for a child to live more than 3 miles from their local school! Suffolk, in comparison, has an area of 1466sq miles, “Are you not comparing apples and pears, in order to justify hard-to-justify decisionmaking?” she asked.
Cllr Page also asked why there was no Traffic Impact Assessment for the county – and while the very limited (Thurston area only) TIA failed to consider issues such as pollution and air quality? (Answer: too expensive/work in progress.) And, as over 70% of consultation respondents were women , and LG cuts disproportionally affect women, whether Cabinet could be genuinely satisfied that the IA’s conclusion that “impact on women would be minimised by phasing in the changes”, fully addressed the actual impact these changes would have on women. Ominously – but unsurprisingly -this question was not answered at all.
Penny Otton thanked Thurston school for their months of hard work. She also asked Cllr Hopfensperger whether or not she had confirmed ahead of the publication of this report (and decision of the Cabinet) that ‘local solutions’ are be implemented in September 2018, and asked for confirmation as to whether – local solutions having been provided by Thurston college and wholly ignored, whether any schools have reconfirmed their desire to work with a council that had so totally ignored their input.
John Field asked why the Cabinet report used just three years historic data as the basis of an average growth estimate. “Is that standard local government accounting practice?” Cllr Field inquired. He also pointed out that the administration was using just three very different years of rapidly reducing cost growth as the basis for their forecast. “Is that a valid forecasting technique?” he asked. (The answer in both cases was to explain what had been done – but failed to address the validity of the processes).
David Wood asked whether the Cabinet member could confirm that there would be no teacher redundancies and no split villages as a result of this policy. The answer was not the positive affirmative that one would desire.
This was new Council Leader Matthew Hicks first time chairing the Cabinet and it was a baptism of fire. It is only fair to say he chaired the meeting with justice and impartiality, allowing the opposition all the questions they wished to ask and cutting short members of his own party who wished to speak in order to make loyal declarations rather than questioning Cabinet.
Will the call-in be accepted? Watch this space!