An impassioned plea by Whitehill, Bordon & Lindford county councillor Andy Tree to reconsider controversial changes to home-to-school transport was shouted down by the council’s Tory majority group last Thursday.
Last month, Hampshire County Council approved changes to the way 12,000 children get to and from school each day.
In a bid to save almost £1million, 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).
Independent group leader Cllr Tree, and Lib Dem opposition members, requested the decision be called in, saying it was “disheartening” for SEND children and their families.
And parents and campaigners watched on anxiously as councillors debated the matter.
But they were all dismayed as the call-in request was defeated by eight votes to five.
Cllr Tree told the meeting: “I feel great responsibility and duty in speaking today on behalf of children and families.
“We have deep concerns about how this will adversely harm vulnerable residents across Hampshire.”
Cllr Tree cited the concerns of a parent of a SEND child, as recently expressed to his independent group colleague Cllr Louise Parker-Jones.
“I can’t keep my daughter safe at my home let alone a pick-up point,” said the parent.
“She has zero awareness of danger. My daughter is very strong and can easily over- power an adult. How can we keep her safe while walking to a pick-up point and while waiting for the bus?
“She is a flight risk and can easily wriggle free. I have grave fears for my daughter’s safety.”
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.
But Cllr Tree queried if individual assessments will be conducted before a decision is made as to whether a child should be picked up from home or another point, adding: “All it takes is one child to not be assessed properly and we have a major safeguarding issue.”
Lib Dem member for Dibden and Hythe, Cllr Malcolm Wade, added: “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.”
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.”
But Kirsty Smillie from the Disability Union said: “It’s all about money and never about the people. I understand budget cuts have to be made but it’s always the most vulnerable who are affected.
“The number 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.”