Agenda item

Discretionary Transport Policy Review - Outcome of Consultation


That the Committee recommend the following to Cabinet:-

  • That the Committee support Option 3, as outlined within the report;
  • That free Post 16 transport to those entitled to benefits be retained; and

That Cabinet consider concessions for sibling groups in Post 16 education.



The Chair welcomed Mrs. Jane Cooper, Mr. Steve Jackson and Mr. Alex Thomas to the meeting.


                      The Chief Officer (Education and Youth) introduced a report to provide feedback on the outcome of the consultation on the review of discretionary school and college transport policy and to consider the options available.  She invited the School Manager – Planning and Provision to present the report.


            The School Manager advised that Cabinet had agreed a range of options for formal consultation on the discretionary school and college transport policy areas of post 16 provision and benefits entitlement.  Consultation was carried out between 18 February and 5 April 2019.  The report summarised the outcome of the consultation.  The School Manager reported on the key considerations, as detailed in the report, and explained that the options included in the consultation, as agreed by Cabinet on 18 December 2018, were attached in full in appendix 2 to the report with a summary of the responses received.

In conclusion, the School Manager advised that if any new options were agreed by the Committee at the meeting a new period of consultation would be required to consider the proposals put forward.


The Chair invited Mrs. Cooper, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Thomas to address the Committee to outline their views on the outcome of the consultation, as set out within the report. 


Mrs. Cooper, speaking on behalf of the Secondary Headteachers Association, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to put forward the views of Secondary Headteachers in response to the review of discretionary school and college transport policy and the options available.  She said the Secondary Headteachers Association understood the cost pressures around school transport and the need to close the Council’s funding ‘gap’, but it was important that all learners over 16 were encouraged to continue with their education and were supported to do so by accessing an education setting of their choice i.e. Post 16 education in schools or college.  She continued that whilst it was important that learners had free transport to their post 16 setting it was of greater need that transport was made available across Flintshire, even at a small cost to parents, to enable students to continue in their post 16 education and make a choice about where they attended.  The Secondary Headteachers Association supported the options where there was a charge to parents which was kept at a low level but retained the provision of transport for students. 


Mrs. Cooper expressed the concerns raised by the Secondary Headteachers Association that withdrawing the transport would have a number of consequences including increasing traffic congestion around schools.  She said it was important that students were encouraged to continue to use public transport to travel to and from school.  In summary Mrs. Cooper said that whilst the Secondary Headteachers Association wished to remain status quo the need to review transport provision due to funding pressures was acknowledged and therefore the continuation of transport provision for students even at a small charge was considered to be a reasonable compromise.  


Mr Jackson, speaking on behalf of Coleg Cambria, thanked Officers for the opportunity to enable Coleg Cambria to be included in the consultation process and spoke of the collaborative work undertaken by Coleg Cambria, the Council, and GwE regarding a network of transport provision.  He said that the provision of free transport for Post 16 students was important so that learners had choice, which impacted on retention, participation and achievement.  He referred to the problem of students dropping out of education and classified as ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEETS) and said offering a broad choice of transport options helped students to re-engage with education.  He expressed concerns around the local transport infrastructure and said there was merit and strength in maintaining the current network of transport and commented that if Coleg Cambria was to become dependent solely on local transport this would give rise to significant barriers and challenges to where students chose to study.  Mr. Jackson continued that the current transport provision was a more sustainable service and supported the Well Being and Future Generations Act which sought to limit the number of vehicles which needed to access educational establishments through the increased use of public transport. 


 In summary Mr. Jackson advised that Coleg Cambria would wish to retain the status quo with no charge for transport to students, however, the challenges facing the public sector regarding funding were recognised and said that if it was decided to introduce a charge for school and college transport then Coleg Cambria would wish charges to be “phased in”, that costs be kept to a level which were affordable, and ongoing support provided for low-income families.


Mr. Thomas said he supported the views and concerns expressed by both Mrs. Cooper and Mr. Jackson.


The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Education advised that the provision of school and college transport was a non-statutory service and was paid for by the Authority.  He commented that many Local Authorities did not provide discretionary transport and explained that any recommendations made by the Committee to Cabinet could potentially have an impact on the level of Council Tax determined by the Council in the future.  He referred to the examples of charges for post 16 transport provision, as detailed in appendix 2 of the report, and cited the example of a charge to parents per term of £100 which would equate to £1 per journey.


In response to a question from Councillor Collett around cost savings, the Chief Officer referred to the details of the possible calculated cost savings which were outlined in the report.


Mr. David Hytch said he acknowledged the efforts that had been made by the Council to protect school budgets as far as it could in recent years, but expressed concerns around the potential of introducing a charge leading to an increase in the number of young people in NEETS and asked whether parents were having to pay twice, given the increase in Council Tax, earlier in the year.  He asked whether consideration had been given to the cost of administering a payment service for school transport and cited the increased administration required following the introduction of charges for the music service as an example. 


Councillor Kevin Hughes concurred with the comments made by Mr. Hytch and also raised concerns around the possibility of students ‘dropping out’ of the education system.  He asked that, if a charge was introduced, then it be kept as low as possible.   


Councillor Rosetta Dolphin commented on the Council’s previous decision to close Post 16 provision in some secondary schools in Flintshire and felt that it was unfair to introduce charges for pupils who had no other choice than to travel to other educational establishments for their Post 16 education.  She also raised concerns around the cost for sibling groups and asked that consideration be given to reviewing the cost for sibling groups.  The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Education explained that the decision to close Post 16 provision in some secondary schools had been taken due to them becoming unsustainable because of a reduction in pupil numbers. 


Mrs. Rebecca Stark asked if concessions for families with more than one child accessing Post 16 education could be considered.  She also queried whether a 0.5 post would be sufficient to administer the payment scheme and asked how this would work on a practical level. 


The Chief Officer gave an assurance that if Cabinet recommended to introduce a charge for transport then pupil numbers for Post 16 education would be carefully monitored and further update reports could be provided to the Committee.  In response to questions around sibling groups, further advice would need to be sought on concessions prior to a Cabinet decision.


Councillor Gladys Healey raised concerns around parents whose income did not meet the threshold to claim benefits and therefore would not be able to access financial assistance.  She was concerned that this would have a negative impact on child poverty. 


Councillor Martin White commented on the welcomed Welsh Government (WG) Well-being and Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 but raised concerns that no funding had been forthcoming to Local Authorities to meet the requirements within the Act which would have assisted in meeting the costs of transport for pupils.  He also asked how the charge would be implemented to parents.


The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Education agreed with the comments and cited examples of WG Policy decision which had a financial impact on Local Authorities with no additional funding forthcoming.  The Chief Officer said that it would be important to consider parents ability to pay a charge and advised that the Council would not be expecting parents to pay an annual fee and said that a per term charge could be applied.  If Cabinet recommended to introduce a charge, details on how this would be implemented could be provided to the Committee.  


            Mrs Stark asked whether collective lobbying of WG to assist in meeting the financial costs of school transport had been carried out.  The Chief Officer said that she was not aware of any lobbying around school transport specifically but there had been a great deal of lobbying on funding public services in general.  She acknowledged the challenges in trying to protect school budgets and shared Members concerns on the potential impacts on young people.


            Councillor Tudor Jones outlined a number of scenarios which he felt had not been thought through, which included whether there would be a flat rate charge and could this be reduced if a pupil did not travel to and from their Post 16 education facility on a daily basis, and the costs for sibling groups.  For these reasons he felt that an introduction of a charge would create unnecessary bureaucracy and said that the status quo should remain.     


            Councillor Marion Bateman asked whether consideration could be given to contacting local businesses to ask if they would like to advertise their business on school buses as sponsorship which could assist in meeting the costs of school transport.  Councillor Patrick Heesom spoke in support of this suggestion as an alternative funding stream.  He commented on the work of the Cross Party Working Group on Local Government Finance and the encouragement from WG for Local Authorities to access funding through alternative means.


            Councillor Dave Evans commented on the lack of information around where pupils traveling to Coleg Cambria were coming from.  He said that he had been considering alternative options and suggested that the Deeside Shuttle Service could be used to transport pupils to Coleg Cambria.  He also suggested the option of looking to create a train station at Connah’s Quay which would increase access to Coleg Cambria and wider Post 16 education provision in the future.  


            In response to a question from Mrs. Rita Price around equality impact assessments, the School Manager – Planning and Provision assured the Committee that all equality impact assessments had been carried out.


            Following his earlier comments, Councillor Heesom proposed that Cabinet be asked to delay considering introducing charges for Post 16 transport provision in order to review the options of bringing in alternative funding streams.  This proposal was duly seconded.


            The Chief Officer outlined the implications of delaying the Cabinet decision and the notice period needed for parents.  The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Education advised that a delay in a decision could have an impact on the 2020/21 budget. 


            Councillor Chris Dolphin said that whilst he acknowledged the proposal and suggestion put forward from Councillors Heesom and Bateman, he was concerned that the level of funding required to meet the cost of Post 16 transport provision would not be in place before July 2019.


            When put to the vote, the proposal from Councillor Heesom was lost.


            Following discussion, the Committee supported the following recommendations:-


  • That the Committee support Option 3, as outlined within the report;
  • That free Post 16 transport to those entitled to benefits be retained; and
  • That Cabinet consider concessions for sibling groups in Post 16 education.


            The Chairman thanked the Committee, officers and guests for their contribution to the debate.




That the Committee recommend the following to Cabinet:-

  • That the Committee support Option 3, as outlined within the report;
  • That free Post 16 transport to those entitled to benefits be retained; and

That Cabinet consider concessions for sibling groups in Post 16 education.

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