Kirklees Council plans to cut funding for SEND school transport by £1.65m

Kirklees Council says it is "not going to go bust this year"
In 2022/23 the cost for free transport for students exceeded £12m. Credit: LDRS

A cash-strapped council is looking to cut school transport funding for children with special education needs by £1.65 million.

In the last financial year Kirklees Council spent £2.6 million on school transport for sixth form age students with additional needs.

Three hundred pupils are currently eligible to have their costs covered by the local authority and this worked out at around £8.6k per student in the year 2022/23.

The council also employs 188 staff to help with transportation, meaning the total cost for free transport last year exceeded £12m.

As costs of transport are rapidly rising; with a 23 percent increase for students over 16 between the years of 2022/23 and 2021/22, the council is reviewing its Transport Statement.

The council currently contracts private hire and public service vehicle operators to provide minibuses and taxis for students with SEND who are both pre and post 16. It also provides free transport or a bus pass where this is appropriate.

Under the new policy, students would receive a flat rate payment as travel support instead, with the amount being based on distance of the educational setting from a home address.

Payments under the proposed new policy:

  • Up to three miles – £300

  • Between three and 10 miles – £1,000

  • Between 10 and 20 miles – £2,000

  • Over 20 miles – £3,000

The council says this plan would cut costs by up to £950k.

The local authority says it does acknowledge that this approach may not fit all pupils, especially those with the most complex needs, so has factored in provision for council-organised transport where the personal travel payment would not be appropriate.

Concerns have been raised around the financial impact of the plans, the impact on family, and around safeguarding.

At the meeting, Cllr John Lawson (Cleckheaton, Lib Dems) also raised concerns around the potential impact on safeguarding, as well as the impact the plans could have on parents in terms of price hikes.

The council’s Head of Service for Public Protection, Martin Wood, said: “I think the key thing is to get that message across to parents around the vetting that taxi licensing do on drivers and the training that they do, the level of DBS and our convictions policy follows national best practice and is very robust, and that’s the message that we need to get across to parents to try and offer that reassurance.

“We’re as confident as we can be that they’re using a Kirklees licenced driver with the wider West Yorkshire region their children are going to be safe in those vehicles."

A council officer said: “I’ve spoken to colleagues up and down the country and often it is the case that when a local authority is booking transport, they’re charged one price and when it’s a private booking, they’re charged another price. Now, I’m not commenting on that locally but that is seen in other areas.”

Cllr Eric Firth (Labour, Dewsbury East) said: “If it’s embedded in other local authorities and it can be seen to be working then that must give parents and carers some confidence too.”

The policy will be considered by Cabinet on 9 April.

If approved, it will come into force in September.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...