'Not the right thing to do': Mum fears school transport cuts in Wokingham would be damaging

  • ITV News Meridian's Mike Pearse reports.

A mother from Wokingham says she is worried about the future of school transport for children with special educational needs, after the council launched a consultation on the sustainability of the service.

Jacky Mackenzie has called on Wokingham Borough Council to postpone any changes, after the consultation suggested services such as dedicated minibuses and taxis arranged by the authority be scrapped.

These, Jacky says, are vital for families and could make things difficult for working parents who may end up having to drive their children instead.

One possibility could see children with special educational needs given a 'personal budget', which could then be spent on road, rail or bus travel.

The authority says changes have to be made, as demand for travel assistance has increased from £3 million in 2018/19 to £5.8 million in 2022/23.

This makes up around 17 per cent of the total spend of the children’s services budget, and the council is concerned that an overspend in this area has the potential to seriously impact other services for children and young people in the borough.

Wokingham Borough Council headquarters. Credit: ITV Meridian

Commenting on the possible changes to transport, Jacky told ITV Meridian: "People are angry and can't believe they are trying to make people pay more. It is not the right thing to do in this climate.

"It also means parents who are working may have to take children to school now because there is no transport for over 16's.

"Because there is not enough provision some have to go to school outside the borough. It can be over 90 miles a day. The child could also get anxious because of the change in routine."

It's an argument the leader of the council, Cllr Stephen Conway, understands - but he says changes need to be made to ensure the needs of children are better met.

Cllr Conway said: "I can understand they may have concerns. There will be no changes until September 2024 and there will not be changes for people already in the scheme, only new ones.

"What we are doing is seeing if in some cases it is better to give parents a personal transport budget. Depending on the distance from the school it could give them the choice of how they get there."

When asked by ITV Meridian if he could give a hundred percent guarantee people will not be impacted, he said: "I can't give cast iron guarantees on many things in life but what I can say is currently we are reviewing all of the responses. None of the proposals say children will not be taken to school."

The council also says three new local schools for special needs will stop pupils having to travel long distances as many currently do.

The result of the consultation is due to be published soon.

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