Review could slash cost of school journeys

Decision: Councillors will decide on school travel plan at Town Hall meeting.
Decision: Councillors will decide on school travel plan at Town Hall meeting.
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Families of children with disabilities or special educational needs in Rotherham could be given personal transport budgets in future as the council wrestles with the high cost of providing transport to school for those who qualify for assistance.

Families of children with disabilities or special educational needs in Rotherham could be given personal transport budgets in future as the council wrestles with the high cost of providing transport to school for those who qualify for assistance.

The council began to examine its spending on providing transport for pupils where it is legally obliged to do so because it is expected numbers of children who qualify will rise sharply in future.

Consultations were carried out before officials came up with new ideas for the future and councillors have been told in a report that “the options were not universally acceptable to parents and carers” – with the success of the new scheme, should it be adopted, hanging on “extensive communication”.

The council took the decision to act after comparing its spending on pupils who need transport to school, with the cheapest authority compared to Rotherham spending £1,800 per pupil each year, compared to £4,260 spent in Rotherham.

Costs elsewhere rise as high as £5,100 per year, but the figures put Rotherham in the top quarter for costs.

It has also emerged that almost half those who get travel to school provided make their journeys alone. Research showed one council examined had a figure as low as 15 per cent, with Rotherham at the top of the scale at 48 per cent.

A result has been to redraw the rules for how transport is provided and, if it is adopted by the council’s ruling cabinet and commissioners, it will be introduced later this year with an expectation of savings of £181,000 a year.

That figure would come on top of savings of £160,000 already made through previous changes.

The changes would mean families of some children being given their own budget for travel, rather than having transport arranged by the council.

But costs will remain higher than the council finds acceptable and councillors have been warned in a report: “More work needs to be undertaken to determine how costs can be reduced further.”

The current proposals will give families choice “to take up an option that suits their needs”, councillors have been told, though it is acknowledged some of those consulted were unhappy at the proposals.

One future change may involve a reduction in the use of taxis occupied by one child only, as well a retendering for transport providers which work for the council.

That work is expected over the next two years.

The personal budget, as proposed, would come into operation from July for new applicants in post 16 education, though existing students could opt into the new scheme from next month if it is adopted.

It is also possible that the council will offer support for alternative schemes, such as cycling or mopeds, with independent travel also being encouraged for those aged over 14, with training for pupils who fit that category expected to start this summer.