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School bus appeals ‘would need £70k council officer’
OFFICIALS plan to spend £70,000 to deal with a surge in complaints if free school transport is scrapped for many pupils.
Oxfordshire County Council has said it would need to create a post in its admissions team to cope with an anticipated increase in parents questioning decisions made by the Home to School Transport team.
On Tuesday the council’s cabinet will discuss whether to stop funding free transport for children from September 2015 unless they go to their nearest school in a move which could save up to £2m.
In a report recommending the scheme goes ahead, the council said the new job would cost £34,923 a year and would be needed for at least two years.
The county council said it “would expect if the proposal was implemented a spike in the number of appeals”.
But it would not specify by how much the figure might rise on the 71 appeals between September 2012 and August 2013. The staff member would also have to determine the nearest available school and would add to the team of 10.3 full-time equivalents, who deal with about 20,000 applications a year.
More than 4,000 people have signed a petition against the plans, and the council admits a “clear majority” of the 2,532 respondents to the consultation were opposed to any changes.
Campaigners remain angry about the plans.
Oxon School Bus Action Group (OSBAG) co-ordinator Sue Moon said: “Savings have to be found. But these terrible proposals, which could end up costing the county more than they save, are not the answer. The people of Oxfordshire can see this. Only time will tell if the council cabinet can see this, too.”
OSBAG member David Hipkiss said: “Even in the last few days of this eight-month long campaign, we are still being drip-fed information.
“The public were not told during the consultation that an extra £70,000 is going to be needed to pay for staff to handle the inevitable deluge of appeals should these proposals be implemented, possibly because that would have given people yet another reason to reject them.
“Any estimated savings from these plans are based on guesswork.
“Every objection raised at the 10 public meetings, by children, parents, grandparents, teachers and governors was rebutted.
“The overwhelming rejection of these plans by thousands of Oxfordshire residents has been dismissed in this report, which recommends the cabinet vote them through.
“The reputation of our county council as a body that represents the people has been profoundly damaged during this consultation.
“A no vote on Tuesday will restore the confidence of many that we have a council that listens and cares.”
Council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “The council is anticipating more home to school transport appeals if this policy proposal is agreed and has proposed to increase capacity of the admissions team by a full-time equivalent post.
“This would be done in order to help implement the proposal as well as to allow and enable the team to deal with the anticipated rise in appeals in a timely fashion.
“The proposed funding for the full-time equivalent post includes National Insurance payments and pension contributions.”
OSBAG members are planning to protest outside County Hall tomorrow before the meeting at 1pm.
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