We have agreed to consult on a series of proposals which change its home to school transport policy for those with special educational needs or disabilities.
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, tough decisions lie ahead and it must find ways of making necessary savings while trying to minimise any negative impact on services.
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.
However, with no significant relief in sight from central Government funding, the county council 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.
Improvements in medical science, better recognition and changes to legislation have all led to a significant increase in special needs pupils nationally. North Yorkshire is therefore experiencing an increase in the numbers of special needs pupils requiring transport and increases in the distances that they need to travel; this is leading to rising costs. Based on current trends, transport will reach an annual cost of £30m by 2025, far beyond the current budget of £5m.
The county council’s executive has therefore decided to consult on a number of options which have the potential to secure savings of over £2m per year.
These include removal of the free exemption for post 16 young people with special needs or disabilities. From September 2018, they would be required to pay for transport they currently access for free, bringing them into line with charges for mainstream pupils - charges which are still lower than many other councils in the country.
“We are consulting on these proposals with some reluctance,” said Cllr Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s executive member for home to school transport. “We are one of the few councils left which continues to provide free post-16 home to school transport for those with special needs or disabilities. But as austerity continues our decisions get tougher.
“We hope people will see that we are making every attempt to be fair, that we are consulting with parents, carers and families concerned for their views and that we continue to look for ways to protect the sustainability of this and other frontline services”
The options considered for consultation are:
- Removal of free transport exemption for post 16-18 students with special needs or disability from September 2018 to bring it in line with mainstream transport arrangements. Currently the county council asks for a contribution of £490 per year for post-16 transport for mainstream young people. This still represents a 43 per cent subsidy for mainstream students and would represent a 94 per cent subsidy for students with special needs or disability.
- This charge would be reduced by 50 per cent for low income families and the council would honour current arrangements for existing students to complete their current studies;
- Recognise post 19 students with special needs or disability as adults in education and identify their transport needs in line with adult social care assessments;
- For all statutory age children (mainstream as well as special needs) Increase the parental transport allowance from 30p to 45p per mile when there is no other LA commissioned transport option available
- Introduce an enhanced mileage rate according to need for families with eligible children and young people with special needs or disabilities, as an alternative to council-commissioned taxis
“For some families of statutory age children these proposals will offer real improvement”, added Cllr Mulligan. “As well as making savings for the council, they will enable families to take control of their own home to school transport. They may also provide sufficient funding for families to acquire their own vehicle if they do not currently own a car.”
A further consultation is planned for the spring about the strategic plan for education provision for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities. Proposals for the plan are being developed in partnership with parents, carers and schools with the aim of educating as many children and young people with special educational needs or disability as locally as possible.
“We believe more local provision means children and young people would be able to stay close to their own communities, thereby helping to reduce issues of isolation,” said Cllr Mulligan. “More local provision would also mean a reduction in home to school transport costs which in turn would enhance the sustainability of the service.”