A HIGH stakes vote that backed charges for school transport – but didn’t – has Herefordshire Council at odds.
Opposition members want a scrutiny inquiry into how unanimous support for an amendment that apparently kept school transport free for at least another year seemingly became backing for charges from September.
But the council is standing by its interpretation of the vote saying there is no change in plans to introduce charges.
Many members left last Friday’s budget meeting believing their vote had kept the charges at bay while a transition fund was set up to help schools adjust.
By Monday, the message was mixed with the council saying the charges would still be introduced- with a transition fund set up to help.
Independent group leader Councillor Sebastian Bowen, who proposed the motion, said the amendment was for no changes from September with free transport maintained for at least another year - allowing for a transition fund.
“Members came away believing there would be no charges from September – if the council is saying otherwise then that is wholly out of order and warrants investigation. As the proposer, I want that investigation,” he said.
The motion was seconded by Conservative councillor John Stone.
“My understanding was that free school transport was re-instated for those receiving it, as clearly stated in the amendment, while a transition fund was created for schools to make arrangements in future. This was clearly understood by members, I wouldn’t have supported the amendment otherwise,” he said.
Councillor Mark Hubbard, of It’s Our County, said that charges from September were not what members voted for.
“It’s hard to get our heads around the doublespeak that says otherwise. The amendment was clearly proposed to maintain free transport for a year and set up a transition fund,” he said.
Councillor Alan Seldon, chairman of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee also said his understanding of the vote maintain the status quo and he was “not best pleased" by suggestions otherwise.
Coun Seldon said he was looking at the scope for a scrutiny hearing into what went on having already contacted the council’s monitoring officer and deputy monitoring officer for explanations.
In a statement issued this afternoon (Tues) the council stands by its interpretation of the vote.
The statement says the amendment “clearly stated” that £112,000 would be diverted from a one off budget identified to support Hereford’s western outer relief road and used to continue to work for integrated commissioning of all public transport, and create a transition fund to enable schools to develop responses to the changes to the home to school transport policy.
Supporting the council’s case the statement says:
“The proposed amendment was available on the council’s website on Thursday 6 February and all councillors were provided with a hard copy at the meeting. There was a full and in depth discussion of the amendment during the meeting before all councillors unanimously agreed to it.
“This decision does not change the policy position for home to school transport set by cabinet in December, which will take effect in September 2014. However, by identifying a one off transition fund, full council has identified important financial support to help schools and parents manage the transition. A further report on the options and criteria for using the fund will be made to cabinet in March. “