A council which spends more on home-to-school transport than any other county in England has dismissed a claim that it is using pupils as a “cash cow” to help offset its annual overspend of nearly £2.5m on the statutory service.
A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council heard the authority had unveiled a proposal to start charging for replacement school bus passes principally to teach students the value of the laminated card which is issued to about 20,000 pupils.
Members were told last year 515 students asked for a replacement bus pass, which equated to about one in 40 of the pupil passengers. Labour councillor Tony Randerson said while the Conservative administration had lowered the proposed charge from £30 to £20, the fee would unfairly penalise parents.
He said he was dubious about whether the council ever had any intention of charging £30, but had lowered the price to make it appear more reasonable.
Coun Randerson said: “£30 was absolutely extortionate. At £20 it is still no way the correct price that should be for a replacement pass. I can’t believe there is a need to charge such a significant amount for a replacement pass. It seems to me akin to a cash cow.”
Conservative councillor Richard Cooper questioned whether Coun Randerson had any “any idea of the real cost of producing a replacement bus pass”.
He said the costs involved were “not only the materials used but the time needed to do it from the start”.
The authority’s executive member for education Councillor Patrick Mulligan said: “The reason we are doing this really is because the method of consistently replacing passes is open to abuse and placing no value on the worth of the pass on the holder.
“Last year we had 515 replacement bus passes, so to say it is a cash cow, to generate possibly £10,000, is not a cash cow for the council.
“What we are trying to do is create something that will disincentivise the possibility of the abuse of the bus passes.”
The replacement pass charge was approved by councillors alongside six other proposals to help tackle the authority’s home to school transport overspend.
Councillors agreed mainstream transport provision would only be given to eligible children and young people attending the catchment school or the nearest school to the permanent home address and to charge pupils for transport from a second home. Another change agreed by members was to only collect pupils from made-up roads unless the pupil had special needs and required a direct door to door collection.
Meanwhile, school bus services for children with special educational needs in York face “significant issues”.
City of York Council spent £247,000 over budget on providing transport for vulnerable students last year – and pressures on the service are set to get worse, a meeting heard.
The local authority went nearly £900,000 over its children, education and communities budget in 2019 – with Coun Bob Webb describing the figure as “scary” and “massively worrying”.
Amanda Hatton, the council’s director for education, said poor funding for youngsters with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) is a national challenge.
She added that changes to the law, which mean children are entitled to help and support up to the age of 25, mean more students use the service.