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Oxfordshire free school transport consultation branded a shambles
CAMPAIGNERS have branded a consultation into changing rules on entitlement to free school travel a “shambles” and want the plan to be abandoned.
It is the second time Oxfordshire County Council has tried to get the proposals off the ground, with the first consultation shelved earlier this year after the scheme was fiercely criticised.
Under the plans, which the council claims could save £2m, parents will be charged up to £584 a year if they do not send their children to the nearest school.
Campaigners from the Oxon School Bus Action Group say after taking legal advice they have notified the council of a number of failures in the new consultation process into the changes.
These include a lack of financial information to support savings predicted by the council, confusion caused by maps on the local authority’s website, and no assessment of the impact on different areas.
But the council said it would not bow to demands to withdraw the consultation and insisted the process has not been “inadequate”.
Co-ordinator for the group and parent Sue Moon said a Facebook group calling for the “unfair and damaging” plans to be withdrawn now has 1,150 members and the council should listen to public opinion.
She said: “We are still finding large numbers of affected parents who know nothing about how this new school bus tax would affect them.
“And those people who have already responded will have done so based on the limited information that seems to be drip-feeding out.
“It is a complete shambles yet again.
“These proposals will fundamentally change education in Oxfordshire forever, redrawing the school catchment maps and destroying valued primary-secondary partnerships.
“These proposals will not guarantee significant savings and in some cases they are likely to cost the council more.
“The least we could expect is that the council runs a vaguely competent consultation process.”
Parent Margot Nelson, a former chairman of governors at St Swithun’s Primary School in Kennington, will have to pay for her nine-year-old daughter Kaela to join her son Sam, 12, at Matthew Arnold School, in Cumnor Hill, under the new proposals.
She said: “We have asked to see an impact assessment and we have not seen that yet, so we don’t have the information we need.
“All the concerns we raised during the first consultation have not been addressed and are not being considered.”
Council spokesman Owen Morton said: “The council has undertaken a wide range of activities to ensure people are aware of the proposals and given the chance to comment.
“There have been some minor departures from the original timetable, and some updates to information online to provide further clarification.
“None of this has had any impact on the substance of the consultation, or the ability of people to submit an informed view on the proposals.”
- For more information about the council’s proposals and to submit views online, go to myconsultations.oxfordshire.gov.uk
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