Rayne parish council petitions county council amid bus cuts

Essex County Council

Essex County Council - Credit: Archant

A parish council has joined the chorus of voices appealing to Essex County Council (ECC) to change its school transport policy.

Rayne Parish Council has started a petition asking that ECC looks at changing the policy to priority admission as the criteria to gain free or at least subsidised school transport.

The parish council argues that, four years after ECC changed its transport policy, families living in Rayne are now facing increased bus prices of 26.6 per cent compared to last year and a 52 per cent increase on what the bus fares were, when the changed policy was first implemented.

The service that currently runs from Rayne to Notley High School will have no ECC funded seats in the next academic year, leaving the operator yet to decide whether or not the route is financially viable.

Three routes are also set to be amalgamated.

But not just is there set to be a price increase of 26.6 per cent, this amalgamation may mean there may not be enough places to ensure all students will get a seat on the bus.

The parish council argues these factors will cause a low uptake of the service and result in it not running at all.

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A statement in a petition launched by the council adds: "The issues we are now facing were concerns four years ago. They are now becoming a reality. The situation has been directly caused by the change in school transport policy. Without the ECC funded seats on the bus routes, operators are passing on massive price increases to hard working families.

"With an extra £160 to pay per student this will be too much to bear for many families in the parish of Rayne."

The parish council intevention comes amid added pressure from campaign group Essex Against School Transport Cuts, which found ECC's overall costs under the policy have only reduced marginally - in 2018/19 the spend was £25,260,487, compared with £25,765,696 in 2013/14.

The petition statement adds: "We ask that funding is provided for students to attend their priority admission school, because if it isn't what is the point in having such a thing?

"Why does ECC have a facility on its website to find out this information and help families to find a school that they can have admission to?

"Families don't choose a school on its proximity, families choose schools based on catchment and its priority admission. They choose a secondary school that has links with its primary school.

"Rayne's priority admission school is and historically always has been Notley High School, with the village primary school having close links with Notley High School.

"Central Government wishes to reduce pollution, reduce carbon emissions and reduce the number of vehicles on the road during rush hour, the school policy as it stands now and with huge price increases on bus fares, is causing people to use their car more.

"This is ludicrous. The more environmentally friendly way to get children to school is by a school transport route or by public transport.

"There are no direct public transport routes from our village to Notley High School, therefore the transport policy is adding to the already congested roads of Braintree and adding to the pollution around the town and schools to get children to school, due to an ill-conceived change in policy."

Councillor Ray Gooding, cabinet member for education, 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."