School parents set to pick up HUGE new bills to transport their children to school
‘Tax on parents’ coming down the line as the two unitary councils seek to cut their school transport costs
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By Sarah Ward
School parents could see the cost of their child’s bus fare raise by more than 60 per cent to £1,000 a year if new plans by the unitary councils go ahead.
Both West and North local authorities are looking to make cut backs to the home to school transport services, which currently takes thousands of children to school.
Under the proposals which they plan to bring in from September 2024, the authorities will make less children eligible for free transport - removing the current criteria which allows children to travel linked schools. (Under the current system linked schools may not be the nearest school to where the child lives). Children will only be able to receive free transport to their nearest school (if it’s over a certain distance) and the discretionary free transport for reception children aged under 5 will also be removed.
And families who currently pay for bus travel will no longer be guaranteed a place and may have to find their own arrangements.
The policy change could see hundreds if not thousands of children who currently receive free transport have to pay for their travel. For example children from Long Buckby who go to Guilsborough School will no longer receive free transport as the school at Daventry is nearer for most.
Pupils from low income families who receive benefits should still receive their free transport.
In the most recent financial year the service ran several million pounds over budget, with the North unitary having to take money from its contingency to pay the bills. However the department has been in a mess for sometime.
It has been run by West Northants Council on behalf of the two unitary councils since the county council shut down, but an audit published in November revealed the department was severely understaffed and not monitoring contracts properly leading to safeguarding concerns. It was using more than 130 different companies and had more than 800 different contracts.
Both councils are currently consulting about the changes, but neither have been up front about the cost changes in the information they released to the public through the media. A press release put out by both authorities did not mention the considerable bus price increase.
In the frequently asked questions section of the consultation the authorities say the price has not been increased since first set ten years ago. The policy changes are being made due to increased demand and rising operating costs. They say they currently provide more than the legal requirement.
“These proposals are to increase the contribution towards the financial costs incurred by West Northamptonshire Council in providing transport, by increasing the cost of a bus pass that parents currently pay for non-entitled children. Local authorities can charge a contribution where a passenger does not have a statutory entitlement. The current policy provides discretionary travel assistance to non-entitled children at a cost of £600 per annum.
“These costs are under review and one of the proposed changes is to revise the contribution required by parents who apply for a spare seat under the new scheme. The cost of a bus pass is proposed to increase to £1000 per academic year which better reflects the actual cost to the council for providing a seat to a mainstream learner and will therefore help meet the costs of providing the service. The original £600 cost was introduced over 10 years ago and has not been increased until now.”
Labour Cllr Danielle Stone, who represents the Castle ward in Northampton says the plans are a tax on parents.
“What they are doing is cutting the service to fit the budget. My view is that school transport should be a service that should be provided in-house by the council. A lot of the costs are because people are making huge profits from it. We should be running it with our own fleet and our own drivers - which is what used to happen. We are trying to green our environment but we have children being taken to school in taxis.”
Liberal Democrat Jonathan Harris, who represents Brixworth at West Northamptonshire Council, said he had been contacted by a number of concerned parents.
“I sort of understand there has to be a fee as I can see it is a burden on the council. In the perfect world parents should not have to pay for it.
“The old county council has been irresponsible in failing to get on top of this.
“My view is that it has been ignored for far too long and now has become a massive problem that is now going to impact on parents unfairly.
“You could even get a situation where parents cannot afford to send their children to school.
“Then what happens? Do they get fined? It is almost like a vicious circle for parents.”
The new policy could mean that families with two children who travel by bus to school will have to pay out £2000 per year.
Read the new policy in full here.
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