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Transport cost rise for Shropshire students

By Dominic Robertson | Politics | Published:

Some of the poorest sixth form and college students in Shropshire are facing a near 100 per cent increase in the cost of their transport.

Shropshire Council's Shirehall headquarters in Shrewsbury

Shropshire Council has decided to increase the lowest band of yearly contributions to post-16 transport costs, from £142.50 to £280.

The authority also plans to start charging students with special educational needs (SEN) for their post-16 transport, under the same banding system.

Last year there were 144 special educational needs students using the council’s post-16 transport scheme.

The council’s cabinet will be asked to approve the plans on Wednesday.

The changes have been driven by a proposal to cut £717,000 from the authority’s school transport budget, due to overall financial pressure on the council.

The increase is lower than the council had planned, with its original proposal to hike the cost of the lowest band of post-16 transport support to £437.50.

A proposal had also been included in the original plans which would have seen all financial transport support for nursery children with special education needs cut, but that idea has been dropped from the final recommendations.

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The council said the changes had been made after it listened to feedback from a consultation on the plans.

According to a report that will be considered by the cabinet, the decision to start charging students with special educational needs will save the authority around £80,000 a year.

It states: “Introducing a contribution for students with SEN in line with the mainstream scheme, i.e. £875 for the higher level and £280 for those parents of students who are on a low income, would result in an estimated £81,970 savings for the council (full year effect).”

The way the transport scheme works sees students provided with either a bus pass on a public service vehicle or a seat on a school transport contract – usually dependent upon which type of further education establishment they are attending.

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The council defines transport entitlement as “a student living 3 miles or more from their designated FE establishment”.

Karen Bradshaw, director of children’s services, said the changes were made after listening to members of the public. In her report to cabinet, she said: “The council is committed to providing efficient, integrated transport services whilst ensuring that its statutory duties are met.

“Financial pressures mean that the council has identified a £717k savings target attributed to school transport, including those transport functions which are discretionary in nature,” she said.

“The council’s passenger transport services has introduced a number of innovative transport solutions in recent years to reduce the pressure on the home to school transport budget and whilst these have been and continue to be successful, in order to realise a significant budget reduction a policy change is needed.

“There are a number of other projects that are being undertaken to achieve this savings target in addition to the proposals within this report.”

Consultation

She added: “The council has undertaken a seven-week consultation about the proposals within the report during March, April and May 2019 with various stakeholders including elected members, schools and colleges, parent advocacy groups, voluntary and community sectors, and town and parish councils.

“The consultation was extended into May 2019 following feedback received by parents and carers during the consultation period.

“Following this period, the results of this consultation have now been analysed and compiled before returning to cabinet for a decision.

“It is important to note that the original proposals were amended in light of the comments received during the consultation.”

Ed Potter, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “The council has undertaken a seven-week consultation during March, April and May 2019 with various stakeholders including elected councillors, schools and colleges, parent advocacy groups, voluntary and community sectors, town councils and parish councils.

“Following this period, the results of the consultation have now been analysed and compiled before returning to cabinet for a decision next week. It is important to note that the original proposals have been amended following the comments, concerns and views received during the consultation and that we are still committed to provide transport assistance for families, in an area where some local authorities have stepped away altogether. We appreciate that affordability is a concern for families and we have therefore reduced the proposed contribution level for those families on lower incomes to £280 pa from the proposed £437.50 pa.”

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