Council faces calls to reconsider charging parents £792 for school bus

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Opposition groups are calling on North Yorkshire Council to reconsider a move to increase the basic home-to-school transport charge for post-16 students to nearly £800 a year, saying access to education is supposed to be free and equal.

Criticism of the proposed six per cent rise to be put to a meeting of leading councillors behind closed doors on Tuesday (May 7) comes as the council this week received a petition from several hundred parents over its cost-cutting plan to limit free transport for under-16s to a child’s nearest school.

Both proposals have emerged as the council looks to stem the impact of the cost of providing home-to-school transport, which continues to rise faster than inflation, increasing by more than £3m in the last year.

Meanwhile, it is tackling a recurring annual deficit of about £40m in its budget, of which school transport is the third largest item of expenditure at £42m a year.

If the post-16 proposal is agreed, school transport would cost families an average between £2.04 and £7.33 per day – up to £792 a year for each child. The charge would represent a 60 per cent rise since 2018/19.

An officer’s report to the corporate director and executive members’ meeting states an above-inflation increase was discounted because the Department of Education is expected to publish fresh guidance on post-16 transport later this year, leading to potential major changes.

However, it underlines a 50 per cent discount on the charges that should be offered to low-income families.

The report states North Yorkshire’s geography presents challenges for young people who are expected to remain in education, employment or training until aged 18.

It adds: “The council’s current decision to provide assistance beyond year 11 is a discretionary commitment to improve access to education for young people aged over 16.

“The application of adopting a single contribution fee, irrespective of distance travelled is to ensure that young people in rural communities are not disadvantaged when compared to those living in towns.

“The recommendation to offer a reduction to low-income families increases the opportunity for young people to move into further education and supports aspirations of higher education and employment.”

The authority’s executive member for education, Councillor Annabel Wilkinson, has been approached for comment.

Leaders of the authority’s opposition groups said while access education was supposed to be free and equal to all, parents of post-16 not in walking distance of a school, college or training venue were facing huge bills.

Independent group leader Councillor Stuart Parsons said while the Government was insisting post-16 children remained in education or training parents were facing having to pay a “ludicrous amount of money”.

He said: “It’s almost like paying bed and breakfast rates in prison. This will impact on many low-income families. Children will feel guilty they are costing their parents a fortune. Rishi Sunak’s government is penalising youngsters who live in rural communities.”

Councillor Steve Shaw Wright, who leads the Labour group, said high post-16 transport costs would put some families off.

He said: “In North Yorkshire, unless you live in a town with a sixth-form you are in trouble. If we don’t encourage people to go, then it becomes only the people with money who can go.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Bryn Griffiths said the council had received a Government funding windfall which could have been used to offset home-to-school transport costs rather than being “parked in the authority’s reserves”.

He added: “For families who are struggling it is getting silly and is another nail in the coffin for people who are trying to do their best by their children. So much for free education in this country.”