North Yorkshire County Council will decide next week whether to consult on a series of proposals which change its home to school transport policy for those with special educational needs or disabilities.

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.

However, with no significant relief in sight from central Government funding, the county council 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.

Improvements in medical science, better recognition and changes to legislation have all led to a significant increase in special needs pupils nationally. North Yorkshire is therefore experiencing an increase in the numbers of special needs pupils requiring transport and increases in the distances that they need to travel; this is leading to rising costs. Based on current trends, transport will reach an annual cost of £30m by 2025, far beyond the current budget of £5m.

The county council’s Executive will therefore decide next week whether to consult on a number of options including the discretionary elements of its current transport policy for post 16 young people with special needs or disabilities. These options have the potential to secure savings of over £2m per year.

“We are one of the few councils left which continues to provide free post-16 home to school transport for those with special needs or disabilities” said Cllr Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for home to school transport, “but as austerity continues our decisions get tougher.  We hope people will see that we are making every attempt to be fair, that we are consulting with parents, carers and families concerned and that we continue to look for ways to protect the sustainability of frontline services”

The options considered for consultation next week are:

  • Removal of free transport provision for post 16-18 students with special needs or disability from September 2018 to bring it in line with mainstream transport arrangements. Those in receipt of benefit would still get free home to school provision and the council would honour current arrangements for existing students to complete their current studies;
  • Recognise post 19 students with special needs or disability as adults in education  and identify their transport needs in line with adult social care assessments;
  • For ALL statutory age children (mainstream as well as special needs) Increase the parental transport allowance from 30p to 45p per mile when there is no other LA commissioned transport option available
  • Introduce an enhanced mileage rate according to need for eligible children and young people with special needs or disabilities

“We have held out for free transport provision for those with special educational needs or disability for as long as possible, but our budgetary pressures are unrelenting”, added Cllr Mulligan.

“These proposals have been very carefully considered and with a view to balance and to sustainable services which best meet the needs of families. Indeed they offer real improvement for some families of statutory age children, as well as savings for the council, enabling families to take control of their own home to school transport.  They may also provide sufficient funding for families to acquire their own vehicle if they do not currently own a car.

“Currently transport for single passenger journeys (eg in a taxi) for statutory age pupils with special needs or disability is £2.2 per annum and the average cost of sole passenger transport is in the region of £20k a year.

“If the decision is taken to consult then we welcome the views of all our families concerned.”

A further consultation is planned for the spring about the strategic plan for education provision for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities.  Proposals for the plan are being developed in partnership with parents, carers and schools with the aim of educating as many children and young people with special educational needs or disability as locally as possible.

“We believe more local provision means children and young people would be able to stay close to their own communities, thereby helping to reduce issues of isolation,” said Cllr Sanderson.  “More local provision would also mean a reduction in home to school transport costs which in turn would enhance the sustainability of the service.”