Representatives of campaign group 'Bucks Community School Transport Issues' attended the full County Council meeting in Aylesbury on Thursday to demand action after the recent home to school bus fiasco.
Two weeks ago we reported that while 72% of applicants for a paid-for bus seat were unsuccessful, they were not informed until a few days before the first day back to school, leaving parents with little time to find alternative travel arrangements for their children.
As if to compound matters, those who were successful or are otherwise eligible for a free bus place did not receive their passes in time for the first day. Almost unbelievably, one of the campaigners had received a totally blank pass that very morning.
A member of the campaign group, Siobhan Adams, said to The Bucks Herald:
“Nothing is joined up. It scares me that if they can't even sort out a bus for kids, how on earth can we trust them with anything else to do with children.”
Prior to the meeting on Thursday, campaigners Vicky Groulef, Galit Ben-Ami Gibson, Emma Cissel and Siobhan Adams made their presence felt outside the council offices by displaying campaign posters as councillors entered the building.
As the meeting began, Councillor Julia Wassell handed in a petition on the group's behalf that calls for school transport for all children (even if it has to be paid for since this is better for the environment), containing 1149 signatures.
In response to the crisis, cabinet member for education, Anita Cramner said:
“The cabinet member for transportation and myself want to take this opportunity on behalf of the whole county council to say sorry. We are really apologetic for the unfortunate, serious and regrettable difficulties that families and pupils have experienced with home to school transport arrangements over the last few weeks.”
Much to the consternation of the campaigners however, she went on to say:
“We are not proposing changes in policy, we are proposing to put right the policies that we have in place at the moment.”
After the meeting, Galit Ben-Ami Gibson commented regarding this:
“Why the hell did they agree to meet us today? We came here with good intentions of working together to come up with solutions and she just killed that with that one sentence.”
Since this paper ran the original story we have received extremely concerning accounts of children being left stranded at bus stops, being transported to the wrong town, and having unsafe alternatives recommended, including travelling via London or taking on treacherous, unpathed, unlit walking routes over the three mile limit.
During a private meeting later on Thursday with senior council officers and deputy cabinet member for transportation Paul Irwin, which the campaign group invited us to attend, Executive Director for Children's Services Tolis Vouyioukas confirmed that an independent review had been sanctioned to investigate why the errors happened and how they can be prevented from reoccurring in the future.
While the review is expected to take approximately two months, the task ahead of the council to regain the trust and confidence of parents was probably best summarised by Siobhan Adams when I spoke to her on Wednesday. She said:
“There has been such an overwhelming breakdown of trust with how this has been managed that they will have to work really hard to gain that trust back with parents because it's gone, they've completely broken it because everyone you speak to gives you a different tale, there's nothing consistent or cohesive and they've shown such a lack of care about what they've done.”
If you have experienced issues with home to school bus passes recently, then as well as contacting Bucks County Council, please also inform the 'Bucks Community School Transport Issues' Facebook group: www.facebook.com/buckscommunityschooltransportissues