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Calls to avoid repeat of disabled transport cuts.

Byline: Neil Elkes Local Government Correspondent neil.elkes@trinitymirror.com

BIRMINGHAM City Council paid PS27,000 to consultants to draw up a 'nonsense' report which supported blanket cuts to home-to-school transport for severely disabled pupils, it has emerged.

Consultants iMPOWER claimed that up to PS2.8 million per year could be saved by forcing hundreds of pupils to get public buses or walk to school, rather than taking expensive special school buses and taxis as they have until now.

Last week the council's education director Colin Diamond admitted that hundreds of the city's most vulnerable children and their families had been let down and that in many cases the decision to withdraw home-to-school transport was so obviously wrong. The council had hoped to move the more able students from special buses and taxis to public transport, lifts with parents or walking to both save money and prepare them for greater independence. But parents' home circumstances, such as work commitments and the need to take other children to different schools at the same time, had been ignored as had reports from the city's own assessors saying that some children were not yet ready to travel to school unaided.

New management had been brought in and hundreds of children had their travel reinstated following appeals.

Two councillors, Matt Bennett (Cons, Edgbaston) and Barry Bowles (Lab, Hall Green), have described the decisions as shameful and are demanding guarantees it does not happen again.

Cllr Bennett said the iMPOWER report contained errors on which bold financial savings were based. These included that distance from a school can be used to refuse assisted travel and, more shockingly, that one teacher could run a walking bus with six disabled pupils.

He said: "I can only describe it as absolute nonsense. It contains a number of assertions using the statutory distance criteria. This is a proposal for savings which involve moving a proportion of young people, 36 per cent for primary age and 53 per cent secondary age, with special education needs and disabilities on to a walking bus with adult to pupil ratio of one to six."

He asked if such a policy was sensible. The Labour cabinet member for education Brigid Jones replied that the problem was that the home-to-school travel policy has not been followed since it was introduced in 2013.

And she added that she had not seen the full iMPOWER report. She said: "The financial modelling was provided to me in the form of some pathways for young people towards independent travel. They were acceptable and signed off by me. Several of the decisions taken in the summer were inconsistent with that policy and as such we had to put a new team into that area."

She said that the six to one ratio was not in the policy seen by her and that the proportions of 53 and 36 per cent were out of the 4,000 children with special needs, the vast majority of who do not require specialist transport already.

Meanwhile Cllr Bowles has insisted that the use of councillors to consider cases must continue, rather than be replaced by education department staff.

"If we had not heard these hundreds of appeals and overturned these ridiculous decisions we would have had children going missing, not going to school, parents forced to give up work and the council facing a huge legal challenge," he said.

I can only describe it as absolute nonsenseCouncillor Bennett

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Councillor Matt Bennett
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 15, 2016
Words:579
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