Kirklees Council set to slash school transport funding for vulnerable Dewsbury, Batley and Spen children by £1.65m

Cash-strapped Kirklees Council is looking to make a £1.65m saving on school transport.
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A meeting of the council’s children’s scrutiny panel received an update on the council’s plans for school transport for students over the age of 16 with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

There are 300 pupils of sixth form age currently eligible to have their costs covered by the local authority.

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As costs of transport are rapidly rising, the council is reviewing its arrangements for eligible students within this age group.

Councillor Eric Firth spoke at a meeting discussing the new plansCouncillor Eric Firth spoke at a meeting discussing the new plans
Councillor Eric Firth spoke at a meeting discussing the new plans

The council says its new proposals would cut costs to £950k.

At present, the council contracts private hire and public service vehicle operators to provide minibuses and taxis for students with SEND who are both pre and post 16.

The council also provides free transport in the form of buses to eligible pupils, or a bus pass where this is appropriate.

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On top of this, 188 passenger assistants are employed to support pupils with the greatest need. The total cost for all students who were eligible for free transport in 2022/23 exceeded £12m.

The new policy would see eligible post 16 students receiving a flat rate payment as travel support, with the amount being based on distance of the educational setting from a home address. These are as follows:

Up to three miles – £300

Between three and 10 miles – £1,000

Between 10 and 20 miles – £2,000

Over 20 miles – £3,000

However, the council acknowledges that this approach may not fit all pupils, especially those with the most complex needs, so has factored in provision for council-organised transport where the personal travel payment would not be appropriate.

Consultation was carried out on the plans at the end of last year with feedback from 130 respondents. Concerns were raised around the financial impact of the plans, the impact on family, and around safeguarding.

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At the meeting, Cllr John Lawson (Cleckheaton, Lib Dems) also raised concerns around the potential impact on safeguarding, as well as the impact the plans could have on parents in terms of price hikes.

In response, the council’s head of service for public protection, Martin Wood, said: “I think the key thing is to get that message across to parents around the vetting that taxi licensing do on drivers and the training that they do, the level of DBS and our convictions policy follows national best practice and is very robust, and that’s the message that we need to get across to parents to try and offer that reassurance.

“We’re as confident as we can be that they’re using a Kirklees licenced driver with the wider West Yorkshire region their children are going to be safe in those vehicles.”

It was also highlighted that other local authorities have adopted schemes based around personal travel payments and these were said to have been successful.

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Coun Eric Firth (Labour, Dewsbury East) said: “If it’s embedded in other local authorities and it can be seen to be working then that must give parents and carers some confidence too.”

The next steps will see the proposed policy considered by Cabinet on April 9. If adopted, the new transport statement will come into force in September 2024.