Labour-controlled Birmingham City Council today voted to push ahead with an entire overhaul of their 0-25yr old home-to-school Assisted Transport service despite concerns raised by parents, cross party councillors and the Department for Education.
These changes combine all transport arrangements for everyone using home-to-school transport. After the initial decision was ‘called in’ by my myself and Cllr Debbie Clancy, and unanimously agreed by the cross-party Children’s Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the matter was referred back to Cabinet for their reconsideration 22nd May 2019.
Councillors at Scrutiny were compelled by a number of concerns especially around how the new policy was not considered clear, did not contain examples or clarified what ‘exceptional circumstances’, ‘discretionary’ or ‘unsafe journeys’ were. Very compelling was the response by the Department for Education themselves to the consultation, which outlined in some detail their own concerns.
We do not think, in the current format (although perhaps this is only due to the consultation format) that the policy is particularly easy for a parent to understand, as it is very long (8- pages in total) and only limited sections may be relevant for a parent at any one point..”Department for Education response to BCC Consultation
The Department for Education among many other points raised highlighted their concerns with the application form which includes ‘a number of questions that the parent should not be required to answer’ and fields which are ‘not relevant for determining’ eligibility.
As a scrutiny body, we raised many other concerns including:
- adequacy of the length of the consultation period,
- short time period between the end of the consultation period and the submission to Cabinet for approval,
- leading questions in the consultation process,
- changes to the stage 2 appeal panel from independent cross-party councillors to council officers,
- lack of clarity with the policy,
- the appendixes changes were all to be changed in the future and not altered as part of this submission,
- given the history of Council and Children’s Wellbeing it was important for us to get this right.
Disappointingly, despite the concerns of cross party Councillors, the unanimous decision of cross-party scrutiny, parents and the department for Education, the Labour controlled Council Executive ultimately waved through these changes.
Considering the very poor history our Council has with Children safeguarding and the importance of getting things right this time, we have have concerns whether this policy will help or hinder future families seeking assistance.
We have repeatedly called for cross party proportional representation of who chairs the overview scrutiny committees. Instead in a Labour controlled council led by Labour Cabinet members, we have the farcical situation where it is ostensibly held to account by Labour scrutiny chairs- their colleagues. Without any genuine accountability, openness or transparency, it is no surprise the council is where it is today.