School transport services for thousands of vulnerable Leeds children are under “huge pressure” as the number of youngsters with special needs rises, a new council report has revealed.
Leeds City Council transports 3,200 children every day through its own in-house fleet of vehicles and additional taxi contracts.
But the authority admits the demand for children’s transport is ”under huge pressure as there is an increase in the number of children with special needs”.
This is partly attributed to better healthcare leading to a growing number of premature babies who are surviving and living longer, but who will have special needs later in life.
More one to one transport is also required as the number of children with diverse types of needs grows.
It has now been revealed that an £8m annual taxi contract to transport youngsters is under review, and overall costs are set to rise.
The local authority is “reviewing its capacity and over the next two years it will be investing in additional resources”, according to a briefing report seen by the YEP.
The report adds: “Without the support from taxi and private hire contractors, children with [special education needs] and children who are in care of the authority would not be able to attend school.
“The demand for children’s transport is under huge pressure as there is an increase in the number of children who qualify for transport as a result of their complex and challenging needs.
“Current trends show that this demand will continue, so the service is looking at different delivery models which will ensure the demand is met.
The report points out that while the council’s own in-house vehicle fleet will be “reviewing its capacity and investing in additional resources”, the demand for taxi and private hire support will continue.
The current £8m-a-year Leeds taxi contract with 25 operators is due to expire in March 2017. Requirements include providing wheelchair accessible minibuses as well as passenger assistants who support the children during their journey.
The service also provides day care drop-off and pick-up for older people and adults with learning difficulties.
Last year it was reported that councillors in Leeds were discussing bringing in a new “more flexible” transport policy for young people with special educational needs or disabilities and their families.
The authority launched a consultation on replacing the free transport provided to post-16 students with special educational needs with a new personal transport budget.
The council does not have a statutory duty to provide transport for special needs over 16s as it does with pupils under 16. However it has previously offered school and college transport for 16 to 25 year olds.
The authority has also previously ended other discretionary school transport it provided to faith schools and children travelling more than three miles as it coped with huge cuts in its Government
Referring to the older children’s transport service, the council previously admitted the “one size fits all approach” offered little choice for young people and families. Coun Lucinda Yeadon, former executive member for children and families, said last year: “We have to look at innovative ways to save public money while still ensuring people can access the services they need.”
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