To receive a report regarding the consideration of a request to exercise call-in powers in relation to a decision of the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services.
The Committee received a report (Item 6 in the Minute Book) from the Head of Law and Governance and Monitoring Officer following a request by a quorum of Members of the Children and Young People to exercise call-in powers in respect of a decision by the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services
The Head of Law and Governance and Monitoring Officer introduced the report and confirmed the purpose of the meeting, and Members were referred to the reasons for the call-in contained in Annex D. Members were informed that discussions did not have to purely focus on the call-in request and other matters in the Executive Lead Members report could be discussed if clarification was needed. The decisions taken by the Executive Lead Member at his Decision Day on the 9 May were set out at Annex A which had been subject to pre-scrutiny and supported by the Children and Young People Select Committee. Attention was also drawn to additional decisions d) and e) which were made by the Executive Lead Member at his Decision Day. The process of the call-in as set out in the Constitution at Annex E was explained as well as the role of the Scrutiny Committee as set out in Section 5 of the report.
Paragraph 4.3 of the report was explained to Members, which highlighted the savings options proposals approved by the County Council in respect to Home to School Transport Remodelling. These savings had been agreed by the Executive Lead Member on 20 September 2017, prior to consideration by the County Council on the 2 November 2017.
The Monitoring Officer explained that the decision of the Executive Lead Member was in line with the budget decision of the County Council on 2 November 2017 and concerned implementation of that budget decision. Therefore the option open to the Select Committee was to consider whether or not to ask the Executive Lead Member to reconsider his decisions, and if the decision was to ask the Executive Lead Member to reconsider his decisions, then the Select Committee must provide reasons as to why this is the case.
The Chairman invited the Director of Children’s Services to speak and it was heard that the decisions made by the Executive Lead Member were within the County Council’s Transformation to 2019 financial envelope.
The Chairman also invited the Executive Lead Member to speak and he drew attention to the difficult financial times that the County Council was experiencing and the difficult decisions that needed to be made to balance the books. He also highlighted that he had specifically added an additional decision d) following the discussions and concerns he had heard at the pre-scrutiny Select Committee meeting held on the 9 May. Cllr Mans also referred to the response he made to a question put to him at the recent full Council meeting in which he committed to parents having access to paid for seats where available.
Cllr Porter spoke to the call-in request and set out Members named on the call-in request’s concerns as set out at Annex D. Cllr Porter highlighted that it was felt that the changes agreed by the Executive Lead Member did not match the policy. Following on from the points raised in the deputation, Cllr Porter reiterated the distance that families would have to walk from Ancells Farm to Fleet Infant and Velmead Junior Schools, as well as the safety concerns along this route, particularly around the entrance to Fleet Railway Station. Concerns relating to inequalities for summer born children were raised as the new policy would only provide home to school transport for those eligible children in Year R who were of compulsory school age. Other issues including capacity on community transport, potential loss of money for schools, and eligibility for transport for children on reaching their eighth birthday were also addressed. Concerns relating to equality, opportunity and clarity were also highlighted, as well as the importance of ensuring that parents were clear on policies before enrolling their children at school.
In response to questions, Members heard:
· That, as set out in the additional decision d) made by the Executive Lead Member, work would be undertaken with schools and Town and District Councils to examine the greater provision of school based minibuses and community transport.
· That Government guidance would be followed in relation to implementing the new policies and all eligible children would be guaranteed transport.
· That there were national guidelines for assessing walking routes to school which refer to paved routes and crossings, and if a child was accompanied by a parent/carer, then the route would be assessed as safe.
· That the opportunity to purchase spare seats on home to school transport would be available for non-eligible children, but the last purchased seat would have to be released with adequate notice period if a child moved to the area and was eligible for home to school transport.
· That no guarantee could be made for spare seats and this was in line with current policy as well as the proposed new policy.
· That transport from Ancells Farm to Fleet Infant and Velmead Junior School would become subject to the usual statutory distances and eight year olds would not have transport provided to Velmead Junior School.
· That some Town Councils may not be in a financial position to assist schools in providing community transport.
· That discussions with colleagues in Highways department to explore the possibilities of safer crossings on walk to school routes would be undertaken.
The Chairman moved to debate. A variety of arguments were heard, including:
· Some Members were concerned that the removal of the discretionary areas of the current policy would make it increasingly difficult for some parents to continue in employment.
· That it should be the responsibility of the parents to ensure that children are taken to school and that the agreement for Ancells Farm was an historic discretionary policy which was put in place when there was little pressure on the County Council financially.
· Concerns were raised about the increased traffic volume and parents may be reluctant to pay for available spare seats thus leading to empty seats on buses.
· That there were concerns that the change in policy would have a huge impact on some families and it was hoped that solutions would be put in place to mitigate this impact.
· That there were concerns that these changes would impact only a few schools, but these schools would be heavily affected, and it was hoped that a review of issues such as traffic congestion and school crossings near these schools would be examined before September 2019.
· That parents may choose to delay their children starting school specifically summer born children.
· That Officers should be congratulated on the work they have done during difficult financial times for the County Council.
· That there were positive opportunities to work with schools and other organisations to provide alternative transport arrangements within the schools.
At the end of the debate, the Chairman invited Cllr Porter to speak to the Committee. Cllr Porter reiterated that there was not enough clarity for parents within the new policy, and greater clarity was needed in regards to purchasable seats on buses for non-eligible children. Cllr Porter also raised concerns regarding the traffic impact and standard of footpaths on walk to school routes, as well as highlighting the role of the appeals process.
The Chairman also again invited the Executive Lead Member to speak and he informed the Committee that the County Council website would include information for parents regarding Home to School Transport which would provide clarification on key points and frequently asked questions.
In line with the option open to the Select Committee, the Chairman proposed that a vote should be taken on the recommendation in the report that the Members of the Select Committee determine whether or not they consider that the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services should re-consider his decisions as set out in the Decision Record attached at Annex A.
The recommendation was voted upon as follows:
· 11 Members of the Select Committee voted in favour of not requesting the Executive Lead Member to reconsider his decisions.
· 7 Members of the Select Committee voted in favour of requesting the Executive Lead Member to reconsider his decisions.