School transport cuts in Essex have not delivered large savings, campaign group claims

Parents and councillors from a number of Essex villages protested outside County Hall in Chelmsford

Parents and councillors from a number of Essex villages protested outside County Hall in Chelmsford in 2015 against cuts to home-school transport by Essex County Council. Picture: SU ANDERSON/ARCHANT - Credit: Su Anderson

A council is spending more on getting children to school despite introducing a policy to cut costs by £4million, according to an action group.

Essex Against School Transport Cuts has said school transport for 11 to 16-year-olds is costing nearly 15% more now than in 2014 in real terms.

However, Essex County Council has hit back at the claims, calling them misleading and insisting £1.4m has been saved since 2012.

The issue has returned to the news recently, as neighbouring Suffolk County Council considers introducing a similar policy.

School bus shake-up could hit thousands of Suffolk familiesIt comes after the group submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, which it said has shown the county council has saved just 1% of the original predicted savings of £4m.

James Bridges and Scott Wilson, from the parent-run campaign group, said: “Our findings show the council has failed to achieve the multi-million pound savings promised from its austerity cuts to school transport.

“The cost for transporting children to mainstream secondary schools has actually increased under the new policy despite thousands of fewer children being offered transport. This is a further blow to the many hundreds of parents now forced to drive their children to school as a result of the cuts.

“We now again ask the council to reconsider and work with parents like ourselves to find a new solution that works for both parents and tax payers.”

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Essex County Council changed policy in 2014, only offering free school transport for children’s nearest school if they lived more than three miles away, and axing free transport for 16 to 18-year-olds.

Since then the council has saved £40,327, according to the FoI.

The figures also show an increase for 11 to 16-year-old transport, with 5,000 fewer children transported by free bus in the same period. The group claims it is now costing £1,061 per pupil, compared to £790 per pupil in 2014.

The action group said the lack of savings are down to the need for more and not fewer taxis and buses to villages which are now split into multiple school areas.

They said families have been forced to make their own arrangements to get to their catchment area schools, driving children in private cars or facing paying bus fares.

Ray Gooding, county councillor for education, said: “The change to the education transport policy, which came into effect from September 2015, was made to ensure there is a consistent and equitable system across the county, as opposed to treating some areas more favourably.

“It is also important we provide the best possible value for money for the people of Essex. We have reduced the cost by more than £1.4m since 2011/12 and the policy change savings are fully on track.

“There can be no justification for a special deal for some locations based on ‘catchment areas’, paid for by all other tax payers. There is no intention to review or change the policy.”

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