Fears have been raised proposed cuts to subsidies for some children who use buses to get to and from school in North Yorkshire could lead to the loss of a vital lifeline in rural communities.
It is thought around five hundred children in North Yorkshire could lose free home to school transport as part of council savings as North Yorkshire County Council grapples with huge cuts to its budget. At present it is holding talks on primary school services but said yesterday said it was also considering seeking views on post-16 school and college transport at a later date to make further savings.
The changes being considered by North Yorkshire County Council would see those pupils aged over eight who live less than three miles from school loosing out.
Coun Adrian Naylor, leader of The Independents on Bradford Council and a member of Silsden Town Council, an area where many pupils go to school in North Yorkshire, said there was a recent case where a bus subsidy was removed and the operator then said it was no longer viable to carry on offering the service - something he was concerned could happen again.
“The problem is that there’s no real alternative because if you remove the subsidy and the bus stops because of that then how do you get the child to school because there’s not an alternative bus.”
He said many of the services served rural communities, where many roads did not have pavements or safe crossing points.
North Yorkshire County Council is proposing only providing free transport for children aged over eight who live more than three miles from school. Currently it offers all primary age children free transport if they live more than two miles away. Help currently offered to under-eights would not be hit.
Approximately 520 children will be affected by the move which will save around £190,000 a year.
Similarly, the county council has provided free transport when the families of pupils in years 10 and 11 move house and parents want them to remain at the school where they started their GCSE courses; this discretionary offer would also be removed.
It needs to find another £74m in savings by 2020 on top of the £94m savings programme already in train. Over £570,000 of this is proposed to come from the discretionary home to school transport budget.
“We are very aware of the pressures on family budgets, and the issues of school transport across our rural areas” said Coun Arthur Barker, North Yorkshire’s executive member for schools.
“We have sought to maintain a generous level of subsidy hitherto to provide free home to school transport for children who live over two miles from their normal primary school. But given that the county council has to find nearly a third of its total budget in savings we must give priority to frontline and statutory responsibilities.”
He said any changes would be phased in.
The county council is also considering consulting on post-16 school and college transport at a later date to make further savings.
Senior members of the council have already agreed to slash bus subsidies from £4.4m to £2.4m. Earlier this year a task force looking at bus services suggested a radical rethink of the way services are provided such as considering whether the public should be allowed to use school buses.
The consultation runs until March 11. Details are at www.northyorks.gov.uk/schooltransportconsultation