Cabinet agrees alternative arrangements for learner travel

The Cabinet of Bridgend County Borough Council has agreed to explore alternative arrangements for how it provides transportation to schools and colleges in future.

Following policy changes which were made in 2015 and remain in use today, the new arrangements replace policy proposals that were developed to help cover a predicted funding shortfall of £35m over the next few years.

At a meeting of Cabinet held on Tuesday 15 September, some of the proposals were accepted, some were deferred or amended, and others were rejected.

Drawn up following extensive public consultation which was carried out between October 2019 and January 2020, the original proposals were put together before the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic caused widespread disruption to schools.

They were also developed ahead of an announcement Welsh Government made in August 2020 which confirmed that learner transport across Wales is set to benefit from a review of the existing mileage threshold of two miles for primary age pupils, and three miles for secondary age pupils.

Cabinet members cited both issues as having changed the background against which the proposals were originally set, and instead agreed to develop a series of alternative changes.

As a result, it is intended that the parents, guardians and carers of pupils with additional learning needs will have greater flexibility in deciding how their children will get to and from school through the development of a new ‘direct payments’ system.

A decision on implementing statutory provision limits will be deferred until Welsh Government has reviewed its guidelines on learner transport, and specific examples of special circumstances of discretionary transport will be removed from the council’s Home to School / College Transport Policy.

Instead of restricted access to free transport, it is hoped that learners aged 16 and over will benefit from a new travel pass scheme which is being discussed in partnership with local colleges and private transport operators.

Council officers will also develop a range of new alternatives to avoid having to stop free transport for nursery children based on health and safety concerns.

Councillor Dr Charles Smith, Cabinet Member for Education and Regeneration, said: “The original proposals were put together against a very different set of circumstances.

“Given the disruption that children have already experienced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot in all conscience create further disruption, especially when offering assurances about the advantages of returning to school at the current time.

“As Welsh Government announced over the summer that they intend to invest in learner travel and review national guidelines, it also makes sense to wait for further details on how this might change the situation that is before us.

“After all, the proposals were drawn up in the face of huge national austerity cuts, and we also want to take heed of the concerns raised through the council’s own scrutiny processes as well as feedback from the public consultation.

“With this in mind, we have asked council officers to develop new alternatives which will take account of this significant change in circumstances as well as reflecting our desire to achieve necessary savings by finding new ways of providing services.”

The new alternatives will be considered at a future meeting of Cabinet.