Council officers fail to do their homework

Tuesday June 11th 2019

Dalkeith-School-Campus-bus-cut

Some of over 50 parents who attended the school bus cut meeting last night

Written by Midlothian View editor, Phil Bowen

Safety concerns regarding school bus cuts prompts parents to call for them to be paused.

Two weeks ago parents of pupils who attend the Dalkeith Schools Campus and live in Mayfield, Easthouses and Eskbank started to receive letters from the council informing them that the school bus service was to be cut from August.

The letters stated that as there was now a safe walking route and that the council’s statutory obligation was to only provide school transport for high school pupils who lived more than 3 miles away then two bus services were to be cut.

This school transport cut was referenced in the list of council budget cuts approved in February but received little or no attention compared to music tuition and other higher profile cuts.

As the council’s letter did not provide any information on where the safer walking routes were and as parents were unaware of any recent changes in road or path layouts they contacted the council for more information. Parents have been frustrated and angered by the subsequent slow, contradictory and incorrect information coming from the council.

– Initially a map was provided which only showed a route from Abbey Road to the campus and another one from Mayfield.

– Then days later a map appeared, dated 31st May 2019, which included a route from Eskbank station but no route covering the area north of Eskbank Road or Hardengreen.

– Then days later a third map was produced which showed a route via Eskbank Toll, a roundabout that parents say is far from safe and which is getting busier as housing developments grow

– Parents were informed that distances were measured ‘as the crow flies’ but Transport Scotland have advised parents that it is measured door to door via the safest walking route.

– The council said that they had consulted with Lothian buses regarding adequate public buses at this time only to be forced to admit later that they had simply looked at the timetable and not checked whether there was sufficient space on these buses for the 100 pupils affected.

– The council say this cut will save £46,000 in this financial year and £76,000 annually thereafter. It also says it will affect 100 pupils.

Concerned parents from Mayfield, Easthouses and Eskbank started a Facebook group to share information and then last night an open meeting was organised and chaired by the Eskbank and Newbattle Community Council. Over 50 parents attended the meeting.

Local Labour councillor, John Hackett attended the meeting. The Director of Education and other councillors were invited but did not attend.

Councillor Hackett admitted that whilst he had voted for the cut back in February, as Midlothian Council need to make severe cuts to balance their budget, he understood and shared parents’ frustration and anger in the way council officers had mis-managed the process.

In February the information accompanying the proposed cut said:

“Appropriate consultation will be undertaken with parents/carers and schools of affected pupils.”

However, no such consultations took place and it is only in the last two week that the council sent any communications.

Councillor Hackett said

“I am very disappointed that council officers did not consult with parents, despite me asking them to do so weeks ago. It is clear that no safety assessment has been undertaken of the safety of these school walking routes.’

“It is clear that the three departments of the council involved have not been working together.

“As councillors it makes the job of explaining budget cuts to residents much harder when the council does not consult or include residents in the process.”

The councillor explained to parents the background to the cuts and that whilst unpleasant the council are forced to make cuts to ensure a balanced budget.

Parents at the meeting called for the cuts to be paused for 12 months to allow time for a proper consultation, proper assessment of safer walking routes and time to put in mitigating actions, for example an extra Lothian Bus at the start and end of the school day.

The only way for the cuts to be paused is if the councillors raise and vote for a motion at the next council meeting on Tuesday 25th June. Even then as the budget was set within six months, council rules say that 12 out of 18 councillors must agree for standing orders (rules governing the governance of meetings) to be suspended as a decision cannot be voted on again within six months.

Today councillor SNP Councillors have tabled such a motion to reinstate school transport for pupils attending Dalkeith High School and St David’s.

Tabling the motion, Councillor Dianne Alexander said:

“This announcement has come out of the blue for parents and the council have done themselves no favours by the lack of communication and consultation.

“The Council have an opportunity now to pause, reflect and listen to the voices of parents and pupils and carry out adequate consultation.”

Seconding the motion, Cllr Kelly Parry said:

“Parents are rightly furious about this – and the lack of transparency and communication is really troubling. In February I warned Councillors in the chamber that the impacts of February’s budget was lacking in transparency and an adequate assessment in the impact, and I am very disappointed to be proven right.”

The text of the motion says

“Extending the distance of provision of school transport from 2 to 3 miles.

“Midlothian Council believes that every child should have an equal opportunity to access the excellent and inclusive education we have in Midlothian. Extending the distance of provision of school transport from 2 to 3 miles will disadvantage the pupils living in this extended radius. The extended radius covers Mayfield and Easthouses, some of our most deprived areas, and may impact on their future attainment, and success in life.

“Council also notes that this change was done without consultation with parents and care givers and without a specific policy change agreed by Councillors or a comprehensive equality impact assessment. With immediate effect, Council will therefore reverse this decision and prepare a full equality assessment and consult with parents, care givers, pupil representatives and head teachers before reviewing the decision further”.

A concerned parent said

“All of the parents are hoping that councillors can set politics aside and agree that the process has been mis-handled and that the safety of our children outweighs any current financial saving. As the meeting last night demonstrated parents are prepared to be consulted and work with the council but as it is, the school bus cut cannot go-ahead at this time.”

As the motion has not been submitted within 10 working days of the council meeting the parents have written to the Provost, Councillor Smaill, requesting that he allows the motion to go-ahead, Read the letter here.

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