PLANS to introduce transport charges for school pupils later this year are set to be delayed for at least 12 months after councillors were left confused following a recent budget meeting.
Council chiefs at Herefordshire Council will recommend a deferral ahead of its next cabinet meeting to its new school transport policy, which sees the council continue to provide free transport to pupils’ nearest school but no longer to other schools in their catchment area, until September next year.
The new policy, which was agreed at a cabinet meeting in December, also includes charging transport fees to people aged 16 or over who have learning difficulties.
At a budget meeting in February, councillors were left thinking they had agreed to a deferral to stop charges being made until next year. But instead they actually voted to approve a new transition fund of £112,000 so schools in the county could have some financial resource to accommodate the changes being made.
Chief executive Alistair Neill and Jo Davidson, director for children’s wellbeing, issued out a statement on Thursday (February 13) to clarify the level of confusion and their interpretation of the vote.
But the council leader Tony Johnson has since met with group leaders Coun Sebastien Bowen and Coun Anthony Powers to discuss the situation and decided it was in the best interests to defer the changes until September 2015.
Coun Johnson said: “To resolve this issue and ensure we are providing the necessary support to parents and schools, which we had all intended, we will recommend to cabinet that the implementation of the school transport policy be deferred for a period of 12 months and introduced in September 2015.
“As such, cabinet will need to make provision in the 2015/16 budget to cover the additional costs this will generate.
“It is important to stress that the budget amendment as voted on would have had the same effect via the transition fund.
“This means the current policy will remain in place until September 2015, which will provide parents and schools 18 months to make alternative arrangements from this date and beyond.
“The council will in the meantime continue its commitment of working towards integrated commissioning of all public transport.
“When the new policy is implemented in September 2015, it will be as per the policy agreed by cabinet in December 2013.”
As a result of the deferment, the proposed transition fund of £112,000 will no longer come into effect.
The plans will not affect pupils entering Year 10 or Year 11 at their current school in September next year so they can complete their study programmes.