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Council challenged to stop school transport charges
HEREFORDSHIRE Council has been challenged to stop school transport charges from coming in later this year.
Opposition groups say a recommendation going to the next meeting of the council's cabinet is the only way to clear up confusion over the introduction of transport charges and restore some credibility to the authority.
The confusion arose after the council voted its 2014-15 budget on February 7.
Councillors came away from the meeting believing they had backed an amendment to stop school transport charges from being introduced in September.
Opposition members cried foul and called for a special scrutiny inquiry when the council said the vote, in fact, supported the introduction of charges from September.
After a week of pressure and accusation, the council confessed to a “level of confusion” over the imposition of charges.
Now, opposition leaders are backing the recommendation to cabinet calling for school transport arrangements to stay as was until September 2015.
"This will take the pressure off all parties and give plenty of time to put better and more cost effective arrangements into place - I think we will now get what was the intention of the original amendment proposed at council," said Independent group leader councillor Sebastian Bowen.
"Part of the confusion was caused by the misunderstanding among some councillors as to the separate roles and responsibilities of council and cabinet. Council sets the budget and allocations within it but Cabinet dictates policy and council has no say in setting policies," said Coun Bowen.
As pressure mounted over "the vote that wasn't" the council put out a clarification that stood by its interpretation of the vote and the implementation of charges with a £112k transition fund to assist schools and families.
The statement said it was "clear" that the debate and decision making process was about setting the budget for 2014/15 and not council policies.
School transport charges were agreed by cabinet in December 2013, before being called in by the general overview and scrutiny committee in January. The charges were then re-examined and upheld by cabinet last month.
As it stands, the charging policy remains unchanged and will come into effect in September. Cabinet is next due to meet on March 13.