What this consultation is about
We're now preparing to enter the seventh year of central Government cuts to local council budgets and councils up and down the country have some difficult decisions to make.
By 2018, our budget will be a third smaller than in 2010 – with more cuts set to follow up to 2020 and possibly beyond.
We’ve done everything we can to keep services running while our budgets are cut back year-on-year and we’re protecting frontline services and vulnerable people as much as we can.
We’ve put our own house in order by selling off land and buildings, reducing back-office costs and significantly cutting the number of senior managers. And we’re looking at new ways of doing things including helping families to be less dependent on our services and generating income so we don’t have to rely so much on Government funding.
But the size of the cuts mean we have no choice about scaling back most of the services we provide.
We spend £14m a year on school transport, including £2.3m going further than our general legal obligations for around 500 young people. These include over 16s with special education needs (SEND), under fives and some eight to 11-year-olds
In 2014 we introduced charging for some groups, but this doesn't cover the cost of the transport.
Transport for a small number (approximately 450 out of a total of around 10,000) of children and young people is being reviewed and as part of this process we’re asking people for their views on this.
We will continue to provide free home to school transport for all eligible children and young people (this includes those receiving transport through extended rights - a national policy for pupils eligible for free school meals or whose parents receive their maximum level of Working Tax Credit). However, it must consider if we can continue to provide transport assistance beyond what we are required to do so by law.
In addition to the free transport provided for eligible children and young people, we also provide the following additional transport:
- free transport for pre-school children attending special nurseries and assessment placements
- free transport for children aged between eight and 11 years old who live more than two miles but less than three miles from school
- transport for post-16 students with special educational needs or disability.
What would this proposal do?
This proposal would stop all non-statutory home to school transport provided by us. Non-statutory means not laid down in law, that is, something we legally don’t have to do.
Who would this proposal affect?
These proposals would affect:
- Pre-school children with special educational needs or disability who either currently use or may plan to use transport provided and arranged by us to their place of assessment or learning.
- Sixth form learners over statutory school age (16 years old) with special educational needs or disability who either currently use or may plan to use transport provided and arranged by us. Those families providing their own transport and claiming a reimbursement from us may also be affected. The statutory definition of a person of sixth form age is someone who is over compulsory school age but below 19, or someone who began a course of education or training before they reached 19 and continues to attend that course.
- Students aged 19 to 25 with special educational needs or disability who have specific medical needs or where we have arranged a Learning Difficulty Assessment, Statement or Education, Health and Care Plan.
- Pupils aged between eight and 11 years old who live more than two miles but less than three miles from their normal area school.
These proposals would not affect eligible school age pupils (aged from five to 16) with or without special educational needs or disability. Eligible means we provide transport assistance for children and young people of statutory school age to a maintained school or academy, or other establishment if named in a statement of special education needs or education, health and care plan, if they meet the following criteria:
- attend the normal areas school, or a school closer than the normal area, or the nearest suitable school as determined by us, and
- live beyond walking distance from that school.
Currently walking distance is two miles for primary school pupils and three miles for secondary pupils using the ‘shortest available walking route’. This may change under the proposal to cease non-statutory transport with the walking distance being brought into line with statutory walking distances of two miles for children under eight and three miles for secondary pupils.
The majority of the children and young people that would be affected by this proposal travel in a taxi or minibus with a passenger transport assistant (if primary school age) but in a small number of cases we pay parents mileage to transport their child or young person themselves.
Do these proposals affect transport provided for families with low incomes?
School aged children who are entitled to free school meals or whose families get the maximum level of working tax credit are entitled to free transport to any one of the three nearest suitable schools where the distance is between two and six miles. Where the school is preferred on grounds of religion of belief the distance is between two and 15 miles. This provision is called ‘extended rights’.
Should the proposal to stop providing free transport for eight to 11 year olds be approved, transport will continue to be provided if the family qualify for transport under ‘extended rights’.
When would any changes be implemented?
If the proposal were to be agreed, changes to our transport policies would take effect from 1 September 2016.
However, those children and young people already receiving assistance would continue to receive transport until the end of the summer term 2017 (if required). This additional year’s transport assistance is offered to enable parents and carers to make alternative transport arrangements.
How much we spend on non-statutory home to school transport
It costs us just over £2.3m each year to provide transport assistance for the groups affected under this proposal. The majority of this spend is on transport for those aged over 16 with special educational needs or disability.
Some of those potentially affected by this proposal receive free transport (pre-school and eight to eleven year olds) whilst the post-16 students are charged a contribution (currently £360 per year or £240 per year for those on low income, but this is due to be reviewed – this contribution doesn’t cover the cost of the transport).
If the proposal was agreed, would there be any help available for those most in need?
We understand that for some children and young people with very complex and severe needs, travelling independently may not be possible and the responsibility of providing transport may be financially difficult for some families.
As part of the proposals’ equalities analysis and by looking at feedback from consultation questionnaires, we will investigate what, if any other support can be accessed by families and any possible other transport assistance schemes. Some assistance currently available includes:
- young people aged 16 to 18 can use our b_line scheme which offers 25% off adult fares on local buses and trains
- young adults with disabilities can use our Gold Card scheme which offers free bus travel (subject to time restrictions).
If the proposal were to be agreed then in very exceptional circumstances the county council would look to provide some assistance with transport for those who aren’t entitled, but this would only be once individual family circumstances had been closely examined and the nature of the assistance would be at our discretion.
This consultation is now closed. A report was presented to Cabinet, 24 May 2016, agenda item number 13.