A Havering Council debate over changes to school transport for children with special needs was branded “ridiculous” after becoming mired in a procedural row.

The council is proposing changes to the way it provides school transport to 600 Havering children, which cost about £5.5million last year.

It comes with the authority having to make savings as it faces a multi-million pound budget deficit.

A consultation which closed last year said the council will stop paying for taxis for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and cut the number of bus journeys it funds.

It has tabled a new transport policy that will prioritise the most “cost-effective” option, encourage carpooling and promote direct payments so that parents can “organise their own” transport.

At a debate during a full council meeting on Wednesday (January 17), the Conservative group proposed a motion calling on Havering’s cabinet “not to proceed” with the cuts due to the “stress and anxiety” caused to parents.

But about half of the 90-minute debate was taken up by an argument over whether the Havering Residents Association (HRA) and the Labour group’s proposed changes to the motion – known as amendments – were allowed under council rules.

The council’s chief legal officer Gavin Milnthorpe apologised for the confusion, which he said was because he was unable to “review” the draft amendments before they were published.

However, Conservative group leader Keith Prince said the changes did not “meet the criteria to be valid amendments” and repeatedly urged deputy mayor Patricia Brown to ignore the officer’s advice.

Romford Recorder: Keith Prince speaks during the debateKeith Prince speaks during the debate (Image: Havering Council)

At one point he accused Milnthorpe of offering “misleading” advice, although he later attempted to withdraw the phrase.

Some councillors became increasingly frustrated and Labour’s Frankie Walker called the argument “ridiculous”.

She added: “We’re spending more time on the amendment than the debate.”

Labour’s Jane Keane said: “What has gone on tonight has been highly disrespectful to parents, a real disservice, it was absolute showboating at everybody else’s expense.”

After several minutes of argument, Milnthorpe said he feared another “Jackie Weaver moment” and called Cllr Prince’s concerns “a bit silly and technical”.

Ms Weaver became a household name after she was told during a parish council meeting she was hosting in 2020 that "you have no authority here Jackie Weaver".

During the debate that followed, the Conservatives criticised the “cost-cutting exercise” and raised several cases of parents who are worried about how their children will get to school.

Romford Recorder: A protest against the planned changes at a previous meetingA protest against the planned changes at a previous meeting (Image: LDRS)

But council leader Ray Morgon insisted that “no decision has been made” and pledged the council would “review the consultation carefully”.

He added: “It’s not a tick-box exercise.

“But clearly, we’re in a very difficult financial position our [chief finance] officer has said we could be within six to twelve months of a Section 114 [bankruptcy] notice.”

Following the debate, the HRA-Labour administration rejected the Conservative motion but committed to “consultation and scrutiny” before implementing any changes to SEND transport.