HEREFORDSHIRE Council is to put off introducing school transport charges for at least another year.
A statement this afternoon (Mon) confirms that the charges will not now be implemented until September 2015 at the earliest.
The decision comes ahead of a recommendation for deferral being put to the next meeting of the council’s cabinet by opposition groups.
Council leader councillor Tony Johnson met with opposition group leaders Councillor Sebastian Bowen (Independent) and Councillor Anthony Powers (It’s Our County) last Friday over “the vote that wasn’t.”
Councillor Terry James (Liberal Democrats) was not available for the discussion.
This morning (Mon) Coun Bowen confirmed that a deferral recommendation would go to cabinet.
Now, Coun Johnson has confirmed that the implementation of the charges will be put off for 12 months to September 12.
“The three leaders have taken collective responsibility for the confusion, elements of which appear to have arisen following conversations between group leaders and council officers, which resulted in many councillors believing that the present funding arrangements for school transport would continue until September 2015,” said Coun Johnson.
“To resolve this issue and ensure we are providing the necessary support to parents and schools, which we had all intended, we will recommend to cabinet that the implementation of the school transport policy be deferred for a period of 12 months and introduced in September 2015. As such, cabinet will need to make provision in the 2015/16 budget to cover the additional costs this will generate,” he said.
With present policy staying in place, parents and schools have 18 months to make alternative arrangements as the council works toward integrated commissioning of all public transport.
Opposition groups said a cabinet recommendation was the only way to clear up confusion over the introduction of 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 and put out a clarification that stood by its interpretation of the vote.
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.