A North East council has been accused of misleading the public over the cost of a meeting to review travel charges in post-16 education.
Northumberland County Council’s leader Coun Grant Davey claimed the extraordinary meeting demanded by Tory opposition councillors to discuss a decision to cut school transport would cost £80,000.
But figures released detailing the breakdown of that £80,000 show that the meeting itself only cost around £15,000 with the rest of the total covering the consultation and meetings which would have gone ahead regardless.
And Conservative leader Peter Jackson said he believed even that the £15,000 figure was exaggerated.
“I believe that the only extra cost of the meeting adds up to £2,330,” said Coun Jackson, who said half the £15,000 figure was made up of allowances for councillors’ time which he said they would have been paid anyway.
Coun David Bawn, who represents Morpeth North for the council, added: “We all knew that the £80,000 figure quoted by Labour sources before the meeting was scaremongering poppycock. But now that the figures have been obtained, it is clear that the figures have been deliberately misrepresented for political purposes.
“I expect a full public retraction and apology from Coun Davey.”
The decision to bring back transport charges for students in post-16 education will stand, after the motion failed at the meeting last week.
Council leader Grant Davey previously said the cost of the extraordinary meeting had skyrocketed.
The Journal asked to speak to Coun Davey yesterday but he was not available.
Instead a statement released on his behalf said: “It’s clear the Tories are running scared over the £80,000 cost of this ‘extraordinarily expensive extraordinary meeting’ because they don’t want to face up to the cost. Coun Bawn may think £80,000 is ‘poppycock’ but residents who will have to shell out for Tory political vanity won’t forgive.
“Coun Bawn has to answer why his leader failed to call the original decision in and why his party put forward in the meeting the bright idea to sack all council employees and rehire them on lower terms and conditions? Now that proposal was truly ‘extraordinary’. If Northumberland Tories had been doing their jobs then taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot the bill for party political posturing.”
But following the release of a breakdown of figures, Coun Jackson said the Labour leader had been selling “pure fiction”.
“The ruling Labour group tried every trick in the book to get out of having the meeting so they were not accountable to the parents who have been so badly affected by this,” he said.
“We forced this on them and they made this really misleading claim about the cost of the meeting.
“It was totally disrespectful to the general public to mislead them in that way and also the Conservatives who put the motion for the extraordinary meeting.
“We feel there’s a possible case for action and we are considering our position,” said Coun Jackson, who added that the Cons ervatives felt they had been seriously wronged.
Steven Mason, lead executive director and head of paid service, Northumberland County Council said: “We’re aware there has been lots of discussion taking place about the costs of meetings. The figures were given out at the extraordinary full council meeting and the full costs incurred throughout this whole process exceeded £80,000. The council is now focusing its efforts on ensuring parents and pupils are aware of all the options available to them.”
The extraordinary meeting followed the cancellation of the council’s full gathering planned for July 2, due to what was deemed a lack of business. The cancellation provoked an angry response among parents who had planned a protest at the meeting over changes to post-16 transport.
The Conservative opposition group tabled a formal request for an extraordinary meeting which the authority was bound to agree to under its constitution, due to the number of councillors backing it.
Labour leaders, who had originally claimed the cancellation of the full meeting would save £18,000, claimed the extraordinary date would cost taxpayers £45,000, before revising that to £80,000.
Allison Joynson, of the Parents Against Decision to Scrap the Post-16 School Transport action group said they would be making a formal complaint to the council and the local government ombudsman over the misleading information.