Posted: Thu 16th Nov 2023

Changes to Distances for Free Home to School Transport Could Save Rhondda Cynon Taf Council £2.5m a Year /

There could be changes to the distances eligible for free home to school transport in Rhondda Cynon Taf in a move that could save the council £2.5m a year.
The main changes relate to the distances which are eligible for free transport for mainstream primary, secondary and college pupils which would bring them in line with the statutory distance requirements, the council said.
Under the proposals, primary pupils who live two miles or further from their nearest suitable school would continue to receive free transport, with the current distance being 1.5 miles.
Mainstream secondary and college pupils who live three miles or further from their nearest suitable school would continue to receive free transport, with the current distance being two miles.
Under the proposal, allowing a pupil to select their nearest suitable school in accordance with choice of English or Welsh medium language or preferred religious denomination would continue as would providing pre-compulsory school age transport and post-16 transport.
The discretionary elements of Additional Learning Needs (ALN) transport would not change, the council said.
The changes which cabinet could agree to consult on would bring the provision for mainstream primary, secondary and college pupils in line with the statutory distance requirements, the council said.
The council said it delivers the largest operation of its kind in Wales in a “generous provision” where 9,000 pupils receive free transport on a discretionary basis – beyond the statutory level set out in Welsh Government’s learner travel measure.
The council said it currently provides discretionary transport for more pupils than almost every other council’s entire home to school transport operation.
It added that over the last eight years the council’s home to school transport costs have increased from £8m in 2015 to more than £15m for the 2023/24 financial year.
Paul Mee, the council’s chief executive, said: “Home to school transport costs have almost doubled since 2015, with many councils having already altered their eligibility criteria.
“Welsh Government’s current guidance has been in place since 2014, and for almost 10 years we’ve provided free transport to around 9,000 pupils.
“The preferred option would align our policy with the learner travel measure for mainstream primary and secondary pupils – while this revised policy would also apply to Welsh, special and faith school pupils, as well as post-16 learners, where there is no statutory duty requiring us to provide transport.
“As a council we would continue to provide a significant level of home to school transport provision beyond what we are legally required to do.”
The council is currently facing a budget gap of £35m next year and £85m over the next three years and this proposal would result in savings of £2.5m per year from 2026/27 financial year with the part-year savings for 2025/26 being £1.4m.
The council leader Councillor Andrew Morgan said: “No councillor comes into local government with the intention to reduce the level of service provision provided – but unfortunately the harsh realities of the situation we face means that we have no option other than to reconsider what services we prioritise, or how we can do things differently.
“All elected members have a responsibility to ensure the council sets a balanced budget, and our proactive approach when previously faced with similar financial challenges is providing important financial resilience as we enter one of the most challenging funding periods, based upon current UK-wide public sector funding projections.
“Having balanced our largest-ever budget gap for the current financial year while avoiding major cuts in the process – and facing a further estimated budget gap of £85.4m over the next three years – the cabinet will need to consider a number of officer reports which seek to address the significant shortfall in funding which the council will face next year.
 “The council has a duty to set a legally-balanced budget, but every year this becomes more difficult. It is wholly unfair that services we value have to be reduced as a result of the UK Government reluctance to prioritise public services.”
A six week consultation, from November 27 to January 8, on the proposal could be approved by cabinet on Monday, November 20. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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