North Yorkshire County Council has agreed to charge post-16 students with special educational needs or disabilities for their home-to-school transport in line with transport charges for mainstream pupils.
This is one of three recommendations agreed today designed to secure savings of £1.7m a year and bring about a fair and sustainable service. The charge would be one of the lowest by councils nationally and the county council would still be subsidising 94 per cent of the average cost per family.
Unlike the majority of councils in England, North Yorkshire has continued to provide discretionary home to school transport for free for post-16 young people with special needs or disabilities.
However, as the county council faces the prospect of long-term austerity, it is forced to make tough decisions about ways to make necessary savings while trying to minimise any negative impact on services.
“This is a difficult decision” said county councillor Janet Sanderson, North Yorkshire’s executive member for children’s services. “But we hope people will see that we are making every attempt to be fair, that we have listened to what families and young people with special needs and disability have said on these issues and that we continue to look for ways to protect the sustainability of this and other frontline services.
“We are entering our eighth year of austerity and the decisions we have to take to meet financial challenges ahead get harder. We have scoured the children and young people’s budget to see what alternative measures could be made but we are down to the toughest areas to make necessary savings.
So far, out of £152m the council has already saved, only 25 per cent has had an impact on frontline services to communities. The vast majority of savings have come from back office and administration, staff and management posts, procurement changes and other general efficiencies.
The county council now faces the prospect of having to save a further £43m from its revenue budget by 2019-20 with a total of £169.4m saved over the decade. This represents a reduction of 34 per cent in the council’s spending power at a time when demand for services is growing.
North Yorkshire is experiencing an increase in the numbers of special needs pupils requiring transport and increases in the distances that they need to travel; leading to steeply rising costs and a current projected overspend of £2.1m.
These increases are due largely to recent legislation which means support for young people with special educational needs and disability continues through to the age of 25 leading to a significant national increase in special needs students and more over 18 travelling longer distances to access education.
The council has written to its MPs about the unsustainable pressures on the high needs budget and as a temporary fix this year has transferred £1.66 million from the general schools grant into high needs services to meet legal obligations. It is now looking to Government for a long-term solution.
However, in an effort to create a more sustainable service which is also highly effective in meeting the needs of children and young people with special educational needs and their families, the county council is about to consult on a plan for their overall educational provision. This is intended to ensure that the right educational provision is in the right place which in turn will help to reduce travel and associated costs.
Full council agreed the following home to school transport recommendations today, which will bring about the following changes from September 2018:
- The local authority will continue to provide transport assistance for post-16-18 SEND students but subject to payment of a £490 flat rate annual contribution, bringing them into line with charges for mainstream pupils. These charges are regardless of actual cost of transport and distance travelled. As SEND transport costs are significantly higher than mainstream, at an average of £8,000 per student, the council would still be subsidising 94 per cent of the average cost per family. This means that families will be asked for a contribution of £1.28 for an average journey costing £21. In comparison, families with mainstream post-16 to 18 students are only subsidised by 43 per cent by the local authority.
A 50 per cent reduction will apply for lower income families who will also be able to make payments on a monthly basis by direct debit.
Some young people may also be able to apply for a government 16-19 bursary fund of up to £1,200, which may be used to support transport.
- Young people aged 19 years and over will be assessed using the adult social care assessment process. This will identify if the young person has means to support transport to education. Where alternatives are not available the council will continue to provide support where necessary. This will ensure equity with other users of transport within the adult social care system.
- The council also proposes to introduce the option of an enhanced mileage allowance for families for statutory aged children (mainstream and SEND) if the parent / carer wishes to transport their child to school themselves. This is a voluntary agreement with parents/carers and is designed to increase transport options.
In response to recommendations from both the executive and overview and scrutiny committees the council has agreed that further modelling be undertaken to maximise the opportunity of a parental transport allowance for the mutual benefit of both parents and the council.
The council has agreed to establish a working group to model the range of enhancement for families based on distance, time and recognition of the requirement of an additional person to support over and above the driver. The council has agreed to consult on a 30 day cycle at the end of June subject to approval by executive member and corporate director for the children and young people’s service.
The council has also agreed to review the impact of these decisions and present a report one year from now to the council’s transport, economy and environment overview and scrutiny committee.