Discretionary transport policy review
At its meeting on 18 June, Flintshire’s Cabinet approved option 3 following the consultation on the discretionary school and college transport policy.
Post 16 transport to college and schools and provision of free transport under the “Benefits” criterion is a discretionary service. The Council continues to face significant reductions in revenue and has to consider different ways in which services are provided. The provision of discretionary transport is not considered to be sustainable in the current financial climate.
It was widely acknowledged, at Scrutiny Committee, that retaining the status quo and continuing to provide free post 16 transport in the current financial climate was not a feasible option because of the cost burden to the authority. However, many members expressed concern about the introduction of a charge potentially discouraging learners from more challenging economic circumstances from accessing post 16 provision. This was echoed by the head teacher and Coleg Cambria representatives.
Therefore, it was proposed that Cabinet support Option 3 i.e. that a charge be introduced for all post 16 transport to the educational establishments referred to in the current Transport Policy but that the charge be waived for learners who are entitled to free school meals. This provides some mitigation against the risk of learners from low income households being deterred from accessing post 16 education.
The discretionary policy for statutory aged pupils (11-16) should be retained i.e. those in receipt of benefits receive free transport if they live 2.5 miles from their nearest school rather than 3 miles.
At Scrutiny, no decision was made on charging levels for the proposed option and the Committee acknowledged that Cabinet have a difficult decision to make to strike a balance between cost recovery and level of charging, while remaining consistent in applying any charges.
Flintshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Youth, Councillor Ian Roberts, said:
“This is a difficult situation as Flintshire, of course, wants to provide pupils with as much choice as possible, but in this current climate, we also need to look at the most cost-effective and efficient ways of operating. Flintshire spends considerably more on school transport than other local authorities and, therefore, it is necessary to make changes, given our financial situation.”