North Yorkshire County Council’s Executive will next week decide on a recommendation to charge post-16 students with special educational needs or disabilities for their home-to-school transport in line with transport charges for mainstream pupils.
This is one of three recommendations designed to secure savings of £2m a year and bring about a fair and sustainable service. Charges would still be lower than in many other councils in the country and the Council would still be subsidising 94 per cent of the average cost per family.
Unlike the majority of councils in England, North Yorkshire has continued to provide discretionary home to school transport for free for post-16 young people with special needs or disabilities.
However, as the county council faces the prospect of long-term austerity, tough decisions lie ahead and it must find ways of making necessary savings while trying to minimise any negative impact on services.
So far, out of £152m the council has already saved, only 25 per cent has had an impact on frontline services to communities. The vast majority of savings have come from back office and administration, staff and management posts, procurement changes and other general efficiencies.
The County Council now faces the prospect of having to save a further £43m from its revenue budget by 2019/20 with a total of £169.4m saved over the decade. This represents a reduction of 34 per cent in the council’s spending power at a time when demand for services is growing.
North Yorkshire is experiencing an increase in the numbers of special needs pupils requiring transport and increases in the distances that they need to travel, leading to steeply rising costs and a current projected overspend of £2.1m.
These increases are due largely to recent legislation which means support for young people with special educational needs and disability continues through to the age of 25 leading to a significant national increase in special needs students and more over 18 travelling longer distances to access education.
Based on these current trends transport in North Yorkshire will reach an annual cost of £30m by 2025, far beyond the current budget of £5m.
The County Council held many consultation meetings during the first three months of this year with families and groups of young people with special needs and disability across the county on home-to-school transport proposals. These proposals incorporated the potential to secure savings of £2m a year and the sustainability of the service – ensuring that the local authority was using its current budget to maximum effect.
“These are very tough options and we do not consider them lightly” said County Councillor Janet Sanderson, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Children’s Services. “We are entering our eighth year of austerity and the decisions we have to take to meet financial challenges ahead get harder.
“We have consulted widely and have listened to what families and young people with special needs and disability have said on these issues. We hope that if these recommendations are accepted by the Executive, that people will see that we are making every attempt to be fair and that we continue to look for ways to protect the sustainability of this and other frontline services.”
Any decisions will also be followed by a strategic review of educational provision for children and young people with special needs and disability. This is intended to ensure that the right educational provision is in the right place which in turn will help to reduce travel and associated costs.
Following the home-to-school transport consultations, the county council has drawn up recommendations which if agreed by the Executive, will bring about the following changes from September 2018:
- The local authority will continue to provide transport assistance for post-16-18 SEND students but subject to payment of a £490 flat rate contribution for transport they currently access for free, bringing them into line with charges for mainstream pupils. These charges would still be lower than in many other councils in the country and are regardless of actual cost of transport and distance travelled. As SEND transport costs are significantly higher than mainstream, at an average of £8,000 per student, the Council would still be subsidising 94 per cent of the average cost per family. In comparison, families with mainstream post-16-18 students are only subsidised by 43 per cent by the local authority.
A 50 per cent reduction will apply for lower income families who will also be able to make payments on a monthly basis by direct debit.
Some young people may also be able to apply for a government bursary fund of up to £1,200, which may be used to support transport.
- Young people aged 19 years and over will be assessed using the adult social care assessment process underpinned by the Care Act 2014. This will identify if the young person has means to support transport to education. Where alternatives are not available the Council will continue to provide support for transport to access services subject to the standard daily charge levied within the Council’s Health and Adult Services. This will ensure equity with other users of transport within the adult social care system.
- The Council also proposes to introduce the option of an enhanced mileage allowance for families for statutory aged children (mainstream and SEND) if the parent/carer wishes to transport their child to school themselves. This is a voluntary agreement with parents/carers and is designed to increase transport options.
If these recommendations go ahead, the Council has agreed to review the impact of any decisions and present a report one year from now to the Council’s Transport, Economy and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee.