A move to block controversial changes to Birmingham’s under pressure school transport service has failed.
The city council is about to consult on a new policy which will ‘encourage’ parents to take up personal transport budgets to make their own arrangements for children, as opposed to costly minibuses.
But the opposition Conservative group this week (Tuesday, January 8) lodged an application for the matter to be ‘called in’ back to the cabinet.
Deputy group leader Cllr Debbie Clancy (Longbridge and West Heath) and Cllr Ken Wood (Sutton Walmley and Minworth) addressed the council’s Children’s Social Care scrutiny committee raising a host of issues.
In particular they called for a risk assessment to be published to flag up potential overspends in the future after growing demand has caused costs to spiral.
So how much is it all costing?
A recent forecast calculated the service to overspend its £18.4m budget by around £3m this year.
Cllr Clancy expressed fears about a proposal to axe councillors from appeal hearings saying ‘where is the democracy in that?’.
But most concerns centred on the idea to push personalised transport budgets, including whether the costs to parents travelling through the new Clean Air Zone – arriving in January 2020 – would be factored in.
Cllr Clancy said: “Yes they will work for some families but for many they won’t. Parents will have to get their children to school in cars and most schools have only got one driveway.
“That’s going to cause extra congestion and if 60 cars turn up you are going to have a crisis on your hands. Logistically it won’t work.”
This service ‘is vitally important’
Cllr Wood added: “This service is vitally important for children and parents and we need to get it right.
“We know there are budget pressures but the children should come first rather than starting with the budget and then working around the kids.”
In response Anne Ainsworth, acting director of children and young people, argued that nationwide it was unusual to have councillors sit on appeal panels.
She also reassured that a risk assessment could be provided to councillors.
Turning to personalised transport budgets she said: “Personalised travel budgets in this city have had quite a bad reputation because of the way they were delivered prior to 2016.
“They were not organised well but when you look nationally they are considered good practice.
“But we won’t be pushing parents towards them, legally parents have to agree.
“We want to be clear on that but I know historically there was a sense that happened.
“What we are trying to do in the policy is make parents aware of all of the options open to them. Personalised travel budgets are a good option.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean cars for all families, some families car-share for example. But what it will do is allow families to take control. It can be a good option.”
‘This is not a done deal’
Cllr Kate Booth (Lab, Quinton), children’s well-being chief, stated that the new policy was only a proposal at this stage.
She said: “This is not a done deal. We want to consult on the policy around home to school transport.
“It has been through robust legal checks to make sure it is in-line with legislation and best practice.
“But we want to be clear that the consultation will shape the final policy.”
The committee voted against calling in the proposal but vowed to write a letter to the cabinet to express concerns around a lack of risk assessment and councillors not being allowed on appeals panels.