Decision made on £90 price hike for post-16 transport in Suffolk
- Credit: RACHEL EDGE
A £90 increase in fees for post-16 school transport in Suffolk has been agreed despite objections from parents.
It has resulted in opposition to the proposals branding it the “wrong decision at the worst possible time”.
Suffolk County Council’s cabinet was meant to make the decision on Tuesday afternoon, but unable to meet because of the coronavirus lockdown had to be approved by chief executive Nicola Beach under delegated powers.
MORE: What parents say about the post-16 transport proposalsIt means those students aged 16-18 who use Suffolk County Council-subsidised school transport to get to sixth form or college will now pay an extra £30 per term, leaving families having to fork out £840 a year.
For those with special educational needs that increase will be an additional £10 per term to a £720 per year total.
Fees are set to exceed £1,000 annually in the next three years.
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More than three quarters of parents who responded to the consultation said it would have an impact on them, and criticism had been levelled at the council as to why this decision was being made when the coronavirus pandemic meant finances were uncertain for many families.
But Conservative education chief Mary Evans defended the decision.
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“This is an extremely challenging time for us all but where we can we must continue business as usual to prepare for future school years,” she said.
“The Government extended the participation age, requiring all young people aged 16 to 18 to be in education, employment or training but did not provide local authorities with extra money for funded travel to post-16 education.
“SCC provides post-16 travel to less than 4% of post-16 students, therefore the vast majority of students make their own arrangements.
“The policy signposts families to sustainable journey planning and travel alternatives which may be more cost effective.
“This includes the Endeavour Card where students can get at least 25% off full price adult fares on participating bus services.
“To make it easier for families who do access SCC travel we are increasing the cost per term over the next two years, this will come into effect in September 2020.
“While we will no longer subsidise mainstream post-16 travel seats by 2022/2023, we will continue to subsidise seats for young people with special educational needs by an average of £5,384 per child.
“Families who are worried about paying for travel costs can apply for the 16-19 Bursary Fund which is managed by post-16 provisions and can support eligible disadvantaged young people by up to £1,200. This can be used towards meals, books, equipment or school travel.”
During the consultation held earlier in the year, parents raised concerns about the increase – particularly in rural communities where cuts to bus services meant alternative arrangements were not as readily available.
One parent near Bungay said it “discriminates those that live in rural and semi-rural areas”.
Councillor Jack Abbott, education spokesman for the opposition Labour group said it was not the right time to make such a decision when families already faced uncertainty over their finances from the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “I’m incredibly disappointed – this is the wrong decision at the worst possible time.
“The economic consequences of Covid-19 have meant that jobs and incomes have become increasingly insecure or have been lost completely.
“A 12% school bus price hike in this context heaps another financial burden onto struggling families, particularly in rural areas, at a time when they can ill-afford it.
“Suffolk County Council have got many things right during this difficult period, but I’m afraid they have got this badly wrong.”