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School transport charges for pupils with special needs in North Yorkshire

School transport charges for pupils with special needs in North Yorkshire

Published at 10:38am 11th April 2018. (Updated at 12:22pm 11th April 2018)

Parents of pupils with special educational needs are considering mounting a legal challenge over a move to introduce school transport charges for their children.

By Local Democracy Reporter Stuart Minting

Parents of pupils with special educational needs are considering mounting a legal challenge over a move to introduce school transport charges for their children.

Kerry Fox, of Save Centre Services North Yorkshire, said North Yorkshire County Council’s consultation process over the proposals had featured major flaws, such as a lack of information and a failure to consult with the service’s users.

Ms Fox, from Beningbrough, near York, whose 18-year-old son is disabled, said many people had also misunderstood what the council was proposing and the consultation meetings had been held at times when it was difficult for parents to attend.

She said while seeking a judicial review of the consultation was a possibility, parents were examining a range of legal avenues.

An influential committee has urged a council’s leadership to reconsider a blueprint to charge special needs and disabled (SEND) pupils for school transport, as it emerged the authority is facing a 275 per cent rise in the cost of providing the service.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive has been told its range of proposed cost-cutting measures would achieve “inconsequential” savings while hitting the poorest and most vulnerable residents.

The authority’s transport, economy and environment overview and scrutiny committee heard a change in legislation had led to a 66 per cent rise in the number of SEND pupils aged over 18 using the service, but the council had received no additional government funding.

Jane Le Sage, the council’s assistant director of inclusion, added the rise in SEND pupil numbers and that they were travelling further distances to schools and colleges in England’s largest county had led to predictions the council’s bill for the service would spiral from £8m in 2017 to £30m in 2025.

She said the council had overspent by £3m on the service this year alone.

Following a public consultation, proposals for £490 a year contributions from SEND post-16 to 18 students – to bring charges into line with those for mainstream pupils – and to increase parents’ allowances for taking SEND students to school from 30p to 45p a mile were put before the committee.

The former proposal would save about £57,000 by 2021 and the latter change would see £750,000 annual savings if 50 per cent of parents took up the increase allowances offer.

Committee chairman Councillor Mike Jordan described the savings as “small beer” compared to the projected £30m bill.

Councillor Paul Haslam said the council needed to tackle the cause of the rising costs, rather than the symptoms, adding:

“I don’t understand why we are trying to make the poorest part of our society suffer.

“I think we should look at the pain elsewhere, we should look at roads. What is another pothole? This is like I have got pneumonia and you are giving me an aspirin.”

Councillor Robert Heseltine joined other members in calling for the council’s leaders to review their priorities to help the SEND pupils’ families, saying they were “in desperate need of assistance”.

Councillor Caroline Patmore said the continuing use of the council’s reserves to offset the escalating SEND school transport costs was unsustainable. She said:

“I would like to hear we are putting far more into lobbying government to make them understand the difficulty in running these kind of services in a county like ours. These are fundamental needs and is where the money should go.”

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