William Eichler 25 February 2016

Council policy changes must be communicated clearly, ombudsman urges

Council policy changes must be communicated clearly, ombudsman urges image

Information about a council’s new transport policy ‘could have been clearer’, according to the local government ombudsman (LGO).

The LGO criticised Essex County Council for not being clear about transport policy changes during the school application process.

The ombudsman received 64 complaints from parents across Essex after the council changed the way it offered free school transport to secondary school pupils.

According to a report issued by the LGO, Essex failed to explain how parents could establish which was their closest school, and was also unclear about how it measured home to school distances.

The investigation also revealed the council did not properly consider individual circumstances during the appeal process, and did not provide clear reasons for its decisions.

Dr Jane Martin, the local government ombudsman, said: ‘When making significant changes to policies which have an impact upon a large number of people, councils have a responsibility to make sure those changes - and their effects - are as clear as possible.’

The council has implemented a number of the report’s recommendations, including paying £300 each to two families who missed the opportunity to get free school transport.

Cllr Ray Gooding, Essex County Council’s cabinet member for education and lifelong learning, emphasised the LGO found no problems with the process by which the school transport policy was formulated and implemented.

He also welcomed the fact the report noted information about the policy changes were published and available to parents when making their applications for school places.

‘As an organisation,’ the counsellor said, ‘we are always keen to learn from feedback and had already implemented some of the recommendations in the ombudsman’s report prior to its receipt.

‘The report does not alter the basis of the policy and there are no plans to change the criteria for school transport.’

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