Angry parents berate councillors over proposed changes to transportation for children with special needs

Redbridge Town Hall

Redbridge Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Parents of children with special educational needs confronted councillors at a tense cabinet meeting last night over proposed changes to their current transport system.

Under Redbridge Council’s budget proposals for the next financial year, SEN children will be assessed to determine whether or not they are able to have their door-to-door service replaced by transport to and from collection points.

Cabinet member for children and young people, Cllr Elaine Norman, told the meeting the current proposals were “fairer” than most on offer in other boroughs.

But many of the assembled parents took umbrage when she told assembled parents she “did not find it unreasonable” to ask parents to drop disabled children at collection points each morning.

They also raised concerns about a lack of a parent in the assessment process, but Cllr Norman revealed this had been considered but deemed a breach of data protection and confidentiality policies.

A consultation on the issue received just 28% response rate despite 671 letters being distributed to parents and children, and Cllr Norman insisted “positive changes” had been made to the proposals as a result of the feedback received.

Cllr Robert Littlewood commended the cabinet member for ensuring families on lower incomes were protected under the new scheme.

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But in a furious outburst as she left the chamber, anguished mother Deanne Lodge berated the assembled cabinet.

“Just because a family is on benefits doesn’t mean their child is more disabled.

“Every family struggles with disabilities, and every child deserves the right to get to school safely.

“You can look at me disdainfully and you can sneer, but parents like me aren’t going to let this go.”

And Jack Choudhury pointed out that Cllr Norman’s continued insistence the council had only received one appeal against an SEN transport decision in seven years – which was mentioned three times during the meeting – made no sense.

“Of course there haven’t been many appeals, why would there be? It works! Everyone is happy with it!

“Don’t make these changes. Send the scheme back for a full and proper consultation.”

His statement was greeted by cheers and applause from the public gallery.

But council leader Cllr Jas Athwal reinforced Cllr Norman’s statement that the new scheme would be fairer than most.

He said: “I think Redbridge has a good record and a proud record of providing these services.

“I am satisfied that we are absolutely making sure that if somebody can’t have their child picked up from a collection point then we won’t make them do it.

“There is a lot more leeway here in Redbridge and I think the offer we make here is a lot more sympathetic and democratic than we have seen in other areas.”

Cllr Norman’s recommendations were agreed by the cabinet.