Proposed changes to school transport in Lancashire, which included a rise in school bus fares, are to go ahead.
The changes also include a rise in the level of subsidy the county council makes towards transport to faith schools and a reduction in the number of people who qualify for free transport. However, Lancashire County Council says those on low income will still receive support.
The County Council currently spends £8.5 million on providing home to school transport, but about half of that is 'discretionary' – support provided in addition to what's legally required.
The consultation on the changes held in October and November yielded just over 1,000 responses, mainly from parents and carers. Up to 8,750 children are likely to be affected by the changes, out of 153,300 school age children in mainstream schools.
The majority of respondents objected to the proposed changes and more than half of the responses (59%) came from people connected to four faith secondary schools in different parts of the county.
Some proposals met with agreement, including:
- Continuing to provide emergency transport short-term to families in dire need
- Increasing the charge for a replacement bus pass
- Asking families in rural areas to take their children to the nearest bus stop, instead of using County Council taxi provision
- Reviewing unsuitable walking routes
The biggest proportion of discretionary spending is on transport for students who attend a Church of England or Roman Catholic faith school which is not their nearest school. A parental contribution of £380 a year was introduced in 2011, though this still left the County Council bearing about 60% of the cost.
This contribution will now increase by 25%, with a year-on-year rise after that based on the retail price index plus 5%. The county council will continue to subsidise the cost.
Other changes include reviewing taxi provision for pupils who live in remote areas not served by school bus routes, reviewing additional capacity on certain school buses, removing a previous eligibility to free transport when parents move house further away from school during exam years, and increasing school bus fares – for those not eligible for statutory transport – by up to 60p per return journey, depending on length.
County Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: "I'd like to thank everyone who took part in the consultation. I know that reactions to the changes have been mixed.
"We are facing government cuts of £300 million to our budget and this means we must look at all of our spending, especially on services tha! t we're not legally required to provide.
"We remain committed to providing support to families on low income who are eligible and I'm pleased to say that most people agreed with this, especially the emergency transport that's provided short-term to families in dire need.
"However, for many years we have provided transport support which is well over and above what the law demands.
"It has been a privilege to do so, but with the savings we are being forced to make the time has come when we have no choice but to make some very difficult decisions about what we can afford."
The majority of the changes will come into effect from 1st September 2014.
• The report to the cabinet member can be seen here: http://council.lancashire.gov.uk/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=22500&Opt=0