ADCS vice president: School transport costs 'cannot be justified'

By Neil Puffett

| 04 October 2017

Statutory requirements on council provision of home-to-school transport should be reviewed, with current spending of £1bn a year "unjustifiable" in light of ongoing cuts to early help services, the vice president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services has said.

Stuart Gallimore has said home-to-school transport is "an area ripe for review". Picture: ADCS

Stuart Gallimore, who is due to take over as president of the organisation in April 2018, said that owing to the statutory nature of home-to-school transport requirements, other than ensuring it is provided as efficiently as possible, it is an area of saving that is not open to children's services leaders.

He said that, in light of the ongoing squeeze on finances, and the fact that the Local Government Association estimates that councils will face a £2bn funding gap to support vulnerable children by 2020, home-to-school transport is "an area ripe for review".

"If for the sake of argument, we accept the £2bn deficit by 2020 it is interesting to consider that in 2015/16 local authorities spent nearly £1bn transporting children to and from educational settings," Gallimore, director of children's services in East Sussex, wrote in a blog on the issue.

"Surely this is an area ripe for review when we consider all that has changed since the legislation was passed in 1944, placing a responsibility on local authorities to get children to school.

"In my own authority, the budget for this service is approaching £12m, we provide virtually no discretionary travel and this amount can be compared with the £14m savings target we have been working towards over the last three years.

"I know one of my neighbours spends more on home-to-school transport then he does on social workers.

"Clearly, there will always be children with additional needs where this transport is vital but in the current economic climate, this cannot be a level of universal expenditure that can be justified."

Councils are currently required to make transport arrangements for all children who live beyond two miles of their school, if below the age of eight, or beyond three miles of their school, if aged between 8 and 16.

They must also make transport arrangements for children who "cannot reasonably be expected to walk to school" because of mobility problems or health and safety issues related to special educational needs (SEN) or disability, unless the child could "reasonably be expected to walk if accompanied".

Most recent government statistics, published last week, show that the amount of money spent by local authorities on early years services has been cut by £112m in the space of a single year, while spending on looked-after children increases in response to greater demand.

"I doubt I am alone in looking at making further reductions in the very areas we know make a difference and reduce future demand to ensure a degree of protection for our so-called 'statutory services'.

"Authorities up and down the land have found themselves having to cut back on early help services, children's centres and youth provision often in the face of strong local opposition and at a time when families are on the receiving end of a range of benefit changes and wider service reductions.

He added that: "In this age of austerity is it right that we take no account of household income or in some instances pay parents to take their own children to school because it is cheaper than sending a taxi to meet a duty that has been unchanged for over 70 years?

"A further reduction of early help services or a national review of home-to-school transport policy? I know which I would prefer."

Last month the Department for Education announced a review of guidance on school transport for disabled children after an inquiry found half of councils have published misleading or unlawful guidance.

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