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Bexley councillors continue to butt heads as war of words over SEN transport rages on

PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 July 2019

Bexley council offices. Picturer: Paul Bennett

Bexley council offices. Picturer: Paul Bennett

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Calls for resignations continue to swirl at Bexley Council after a watchdog was forced to review a policy supporting vulnerable kids getting to school.

Opposition leader Daniel Francis has apologised to cabinet member John Fuller for claiming he misled the council over special educational needs transport.

Cllr Fuller said he was not aware the Local Government Ombudsman had reviewed several cases, where upset parents had complained about having transport for their child taken away, when he updated councillors a few weeks ago.

However, despite getting an apology, the cabinet member remains under pressure, with Labour questioning how the cases could go under his radar.

The council changed policies last year as it looks to cut costs - the Ombudsman has since had eight cases from Bexley to review, and found faults with the council's strategy.

In a letter to the chief executive on Tuesday (July 30), Labour leader Daniel Francis continued to call for an urgent investigation.

Questions remain over who knew what, when, and how the council has responded to the Watchdog's findings.

Cllr Francis wrote: "This whole debacle was caused by a desire to make financial savings and reduce demand for travel for children with disabilities, by dealing with applications too close to the academic year and deciding applications based on a policy which did not comply with the law.

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"I have concluded that for these reasons, we have a Cabinet Member responsible for services for our children in the borough who is clearly not on top of his brief and that the responsible thing for him to do, would be to take responsibility for what has happened under his political leadership and consider his position, given he has had political responsibility for the department throughout this period."

The council's administration maintains, however, that the policy was not amended, instead reworded to make it easier for parents.

The Conservatives have blasted the Opposition for not approaching officers, and instead raising it at a council meeting.

The Tories say that Labour have been misleading in that the Ombudsman upheld some cases and that the cabinet member not hidden cases from Committees.

Cllr Fuller said: "Moreover, as elected representatives, councillors of all parties have a duty to each other and to the residents who voted for them to be factual in what they say.

"In light of these new findings, and having ignored our request to withdraw the claims, Cllr Francis must resign as leader of the Labour Group, make a statement retracting his previous statements and those by other Labour Councillors and supporters, and formally apologise to the Council at the earliest opportunity, and certainly by the time of the next Full Council meeting in November."

Cllr Francis said following his letter: "I accept there wasn't an intention to mislead from Cllr Fuller but it does suggest the cabinet member didn't have an idea about what was in the department.

"This is becoming about Tory councillors being hurt because their pride is hurt - the real apology needs to be to the families that have been hurt.

"Our focus is on ensuring families who lost their transport have it reinstated."

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