COUNCILLORS are to discuss replacing the free transport provided to post-16 students with special education needs with a new personal transport budget.
A new report to Leeds City Council’s executive board will ask it to launch a consultation which will include working with each of the 288 students and their families who currently receive this service.
The council does not have a statutory duty to provide transport as it does with pupils under the age of 16 with special education needs.
However it currently provides a service taking students between the ages of 16 and 25 to school or college. It is delivered through private hire companies or the council’s in-house fleet of vehicles.
The council says it is a “one size fits all approach” offering little choice for young people and families. The authority has 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 funding. It is not planning to stop funding the post 16 to 25 SEN transport although the new transport budget is expected to save the authority £1m. The current scheme costs £1.7m.
The consultation will focus on three options which centre around personal transport budgets, including, mileage allowances and the cost-equivalence of bus passes, or introducing ‘banded’ budgets, which take account of the different needs of students.
Coun Lucinda Yeadon, executive member for children and families, said: “We have to look at innovative ways to save public money while still ensuring people can access the services they need. We are now planning to consult families on innovative proposals that will offer greater choice and flexibility in making their own transport arrangements as an alternative to relying on the council to provide transport at fixed times on set days.”
“We would like to encourage all families who currently use the service, or are likely to need it in the next few years to take part in the consultation so we can better understand the likely impact of each option on each family.”
As well as introducing the proposed personal transport budgets the council is also planning to expand its existing Independent Travel Training programme which has already seen 450 students learning to use public transport independently. The training, which won a national Children and Young People Now award, significantly increases a student’s ability to lead more active, fulfilling and independent lives. The travel training has now also been expanded to include adults with learning disabilities, to enable them to lead more independent lives and minimising the risk of them becoming dependent on inflexible transport provision into adult life.
Since 2010, Leeds City Council has seen its core government funding reduced by £180m, a drop of more than 40 per cent in five years. The council estimates further cuts combined with rising costs of services will result in an overall funding gap of around £87.2 million for 2016/17.
The executive board meets on Wednesday.