ALTERNATIVES to charging parents of children with disabilities or special needs up to £730 a year for school transport must be considered, county councillors have ordered.

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet already voted to charge the fee last month at a heated meeting last month. But councillors – including many from the council’s controlling Conservative Independent alliance – said they want other choices explored next week.

A hefty vote in favour of a motion urging change was passed by the council at a meeting on Tuesday.

The council said it had hoped to save £330,000 every year from September 2019 with the change but councillors complained detail over the policy was too vague for them to make such a critical decision.

Liz Brighouse, the leader of the council’s Labour Party group, said she wanted ‘options to include working with schools to maximise the use of maintenance grants’ before choosing to levy the charges on about 130 families.

She called for more work to look at ‘alternative procurement practices including better use of the integrated transport service’.

But cabinet member for environment, Yvonne Constance, said the council has made ‘much harsher decisions’ over transport before.

She said a decision to cut bus route subsidies was harder to make in 2016 and their removal has left elderly people isolated.

However, fellow Conservative Eddie Reeves called her comment ‘crass’ and, supporting Mrs Brighouse’s motion, said transport for disabled children was ‘stratospherically above party politics’.

Senior Tory Hilary Hibbert-Biles, who is responsible for the change, voted against it at a meeting last month.

She told the council she had wanted the decision – which would affect children between 16 and 18 – deferred ahead of the meeting for more work to be done.

Mrs Hibbert-Biles said: “A society is judged by how it deals with its vulnerable people and I hope the cabinet will look at this in another light.”

It is likely the cabinet will decide to review the options available to them after its council voted so strongly for an alternative.

All councillors at the meeting voted in favour of Mrs Brighouse’s motion other than cabinet members, who abstained.

Opponents to the charges campaigned ahead of the cabinet vote and collected more than 2,000 votes against it.

Parents said the free transport service had been a ‘lifeline’ ahead of the vote.

Emma Turnbull, a Labour councillor, said on Tuesday: “The Labour group believes that it could find the necessary efficiency savings without requiring SEND children to pay for transport.

“We would bring the contracts in-house and run an integrated home-to-school transport service.

“This would be safer, more reliable and more flexible for students and their families – ending a system of relying on ad hoc private suppliers.

“The current proposal has been rushed through with no proper alternative investigated.

She added: “As I told cabinet back in June, it shows that the council has not learned the lessons of Carillion.

“The answer to squeezed budgets is not to make haphazard, punitive cuts to services for the vulnerable.”

Last week cabinet member Steve Harrod said the issue had been ‘blown out of proportion’.