Council plans to cut school transport face major opposition

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A controversial decision for a council to change the way it runs home-to-school transport could be called in for reconsideration.

Earlier this month, Hampshire County Council agreed changes that would see children with special educational needs and disabilities taking shared transport from pick-up and drop-off points, rather than being collected by themselves from home.

Council officers say this will save the county council almost £1m, although it is expected that the rising cost of fuel and ongoing driver shortage will somewhat offset this saving.

On Thursday the council’s Children and Young People select committee will meet to debate the call-in of Hampshire County Council’s decision, following requests from multiple councillors.

In a report for members, Barbara Beardwell, head of law and governance and monitoring officer at the county council, said: “Following the decision of the executive lead member for children’s services on July 12th, a call-in request was made by a quorum of members of the children and young people select committee for a meeting of the committee to be held for it to consider whether it should exercise its call-in powers. No stated reason was given for the call-in request.”

The initial decision was heavily criticised by opposition councillors and the Disability Union.

Foundations for these criticisms lay in children with special educational needs and disabilities struggling to adapt to changing routines and not always getting along with other children. The county council insisted each of the 12,000 children using the service would be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Councillors on scrutiny and select committees have a legal right to request the call-in of a decision. Under national guidance it is typical for at least two councillors to submit a request for a call-in before it is reconsidered, regardless of political allegiance.

If the motion is passed, the decision goes back before the executive member for children’s services, Councillor Roz Chadd, for reconsideration. Speaking about her decision at the time, Councillor Chadd said: “The fact that it’s going to be on a case-by-case basis means I am in full support of the recommendations.

“We will work with parents and schools over the next two to three years so that the children who are able to meet at a collective point can do so, ensuring our service for the future.”

The Disability Union has been fiercely critical of the changes, saying the county council is not putting the children first and on Saturday the charity is hosting a protest at the Castle Club in The Castle, Winchester, between The Great Hall and Winchester Crown Court.

The Disability Union’s strategic development officer, Kirsty Smillie, said: “Parents with children who need school transport already have to fight for adequate care and education , this is just another challenge they will face and one that we predict will have a detrimental effect on school aged children.

“We at The Disability Union on behalf of the young people and their parents wish to receive as much support as possible to add weight to our campaign.

“Vulnerable children should be a priority, they are always the first to suffer from mismanagement of funds and this must be addressed.”

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