Requests for controversial changes to home-to-school transport to be reconsidered have been rejected by Conservatives.
Two weeks ago, Hampshire County Council approved changes to the way 12,000 children get to and from school each day.
In a bid to save almost £1m, the county council will switch to using public pick-up and drop-off points, rather than parking in front of passengers’ homes, and take multiple children on a single journey.
A quarter of these children also have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Liberal Democrat and independent councillors requested the call-in meeting, calling the decision ‘disheartening’ for SEND children and their families.
Parents and campaigners watched on anxiously as councillors debated the matter.
According to council officers, the existing proposal will affect five per cent of SEND children receiving home-to-school transport, with children’s needs examined on a case-by-case basis.
Liberal Democrat member for Dibden and Hythe, Cllr Malcolm Wade said: ‘This policy will not work for all young people – there will be more appeals and more tribunals.
‘It’s quite soul-destroying for parents, and if it’s such a small number then why don’t we leave it as it is for SEND children, and therefore ensure that all these children get the level or attention that they need. We have to ensure they get the best start in life.’
Director for children’s services, Steve Crocker, said: ‘We spend about £35m every year on home-to-school transport and have to get the best value for money for the taxpayer.
‘That cost is only going to increase with rising petrol costs.’
Conservative chairman of the policy and resources select committee, Cllr Jonathan Glen, added: ‘I have a son with SEND and when he was a child he was taken to school on his own. He had perfect diction.
‘When he shared transport with a child who had a stutter, he developed one himself. He’s an adult now and still has it.
‘These children copy each other when put together, and while it might be a good idea to socialise, in my opinion this hasn’t helped my son.’
The call-in request was defeated by eight votes to five, to the dismay of campaigners.
Kirsty Smillie from the Disability Union said: ‘We knew this was going to happen – it’s all about money and never about the people.
‘I understand that budget cuts have to be made but it’s always the most vulnerable who are affected.
‘The amount of tribunals and appeals parents will end up lodging will probably cost the county council just as much as they plan to save by doing this.
‘One councillor said the savings are ‘small fry’ but the impact this will have on people’s lives is anything but.’