Suffolk: Ferrying children to schools in taxis costs the taxpayer £7m every year

Graham White, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it is important the system

Graham White, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it is important the system is not being abused by parents. - Credit: Archant

COUNCIL chiefs have spent more than £28million of taxpayers’ money ferrying children to school by taxi over five years.

Figures, obtained by the EADT under Freedom of Information laws, revealed £28,750,112 was spent sending children to school in taxis in the last five academic years in Suffolk.

The highest was 2010/11, when the school taxi bill totalled £7,415,777 – an average of £20,317 a day. The estimate for this school year is £7,201,899.

Suffolk County Council (SCC) has a legal duty to provide a home-to-school transport service for children, most of whom have special educational needs, subject to criteria.

Pupils under the age of eight living two miles or more from the catchment or nearest school are entitled, as are pupils eight years old or over living three miles or more away.

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A council spokesman said: “Once it has been established that a child qualifies, and this year approximately 16,000 did, our passenger transport team then works out the cheapest and most practical way of transporting those children.” The figures showed the average daily cost for the 599 taxi services contracted for this academic year was £90.61.

One taxi firm, based in Lowestoft, is paid £616 on average every day taking children to The New Eccles School in Norfolk.

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A Bury St Edmunds taxi company is paid £571.60 taking pupils to Gretton School in Cambridgeshire, while an Ipswich company receives £435.60 for taking students to Kesgrave High School every day.

Graham White, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said it is “important the system is not being abused” by parents.

“There is no evidence to suggest it is, but it is the public’s money and we need to make sure it is being spent wisely,” he said.

“I know from case studies we have done that children are getting taxis from Bungay to Lowestoft, which is clearly very expensive.

“We need to look at costs and should strive to get value for money, and in some cases we could have shorter journeys.

“We shouldn’t be ferrying pupils from one side of the county to the other, if that is the case, and these taxi figures imply we don’t have enough local provision for pupils.

“But it’s not right to say the budget should be cut down. It might be that £7m is not enough. It needs to be assessed on an individual basis, but there could be better ways of spending the money.”

Ben Gummer, MP for Ipswich, said: “The county council is facing financial challenges but hard-working families who are struggling will want to be assured that in every incident the parent is definitely incapable of taking their own child to school themselves.

“They are enormous costs but some parents may want to help out. There could be a car share scheme, for example, where parents take other children to school and the other parents pay contributions towards petrol costs.”

An SCC spokesman added: “In some cases, such as when a small number of children live in a very rural area, taxis prove less expensive and more practical than providing a minibus or coach.

“In other cases where taxis are used, it is because it’s more appropriate for transporting children with special educational needs or disabilities. The costs associated with home-to-school transport are monitored very closely and cost effectiveness is a key concern when planning the service.”

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