Campaigners urged to 'accept reality' as calls for end to transport policy are made
PUBLISHED: 08:06 10 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:06 10 June 2019
A campaign group has been urged to "accept reality" by the ruling administration at Essex County Council after it repeated calls for the authority to scrap its school transport policy.
A freedom of information request by parents group, Essex Against School Transport Cuts (EASTC), revealed that the county council's school transport policy has caused the cost of transporting children to school to rocket by more than half while the number of children transported has reduced by a third.
The policy, introduced in 2015, withdrew free transport to 'catchment' schools for 11-16-year-olds and it also stopped free transport for nearly all over 16s attending college and further education.
EASTC says the policy has ended up costing taxpayers £3.50 more per pupil, per day.
However, Councillor Ray Gooding, cabinet member for education at Essex County Council, said the authority had "no intention of changing the policy" and said EASTC had to accept it.
EASTC said that while overall costs under the policy had reduced (in 2018/19 the spend was £25,260,487, compared with 25,765,696 in 2013/14), they had done so at the cost of transporting more than 7,200 fewer pupils to primary, secondary or further education per year than in the years before the policy.
Scott Wilson, of Essex Against School Transport Cuts, said: "If there was a final nail to go into the coffin of this divisive and bitterly unfair school transport policy this is surely it. Essex County Council has singularly failed to save any money from this policy and children and families across our county are suffering.
"We call on the political opposition to Essex County Council to act swiftly to end this draconian policy."
Essex is one of the only local authorities in the country to have stopped school transport for children to their 'catchment school'. Families affected by the policy have to make their own arrangements to get to their catchment area schools, driving children in private cars or paying bus fares.
The 'nearest' school is determined by a county council mapping system which has no public interface to allow parents to find out which school is considered closest, to make their application for school transport.
Councillor Ray Gooding, cabinet member for education at Essex County Council, said: "The change to the education transport policy which took effect from September 2015 was to ensure fair and equitable provision across the county, as well as reducing expenditure.
"In 2018/19, the council spent £2million less on mainstream home to school transport, when compared to 2014/15. There is no doubt that the policy change has been completely successful in delivering much need savings.
"We have absolutely no intention of reviewing or changing the policy in the manner suggested. The days of special deals for some areas - paid for by everybody else - are long gone and it is time the campaign group accepted this reality."