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Consultation over school travel scheme

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Consultation over school travel scheme

By timesecholife on in All News, Community News

A currently suspended scheme, which lets pupils not entitled to free school transport to take up spare seats on school buses, may not return. Staffordshire County Council has stated it will not reinstate the suspended Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme, which was halted during the pandemic, unless it is persuaded otherwise during the next six weeks.

A currently suspended scheme, which lets pupils not entitled to free school transport to take up spare seats on school buses, may not return.

Staffordshire County Council has stated it will not reinstate the suspended Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme, which was halted during the pandemic, unless it is persuaded otherwise during the next six weeks.

A spokesman for the council explained: “The non-statutory scheme, which is run at the authority’s discretion, has been burdened by new Government guidance and a lack of suitable vehicles, which creates potential inequalities across the county.”

Councillor Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Education (and SEND), said: “This scheme was launched many years ago by the council over and above legal requirements to help people where we could and to offset some of the costs of moving thousands of pupils by school bus.

Recent changes to Government guidance mean that this scheme costs us money to administer and will mean that one child has a free seat, while another will pay hundreds of pounds for theirs and a third child will have no opportunity at all.

It’s unfair, it’s costing Staffordshire taxpayers money and it’s a mess not of our making, so we propose to stop the scheme for good, as have some other counties, unless someone presents a solution.”

Each year, Staffordshire County Council transports around 8,000 children entitled to free Home to School transport, using 900 routes to 150 schools.

Another 112,000 Staffordshire children not entitled to free transport make their own way to and from school each day, while prior to the pandemic, approximately 0.25 per cent of the school population – 300 children – were able to use the Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme. Currently there are approximately 100 expressions of interest, according to the council.

The spokesman said: “Parents using the scheme are always told they cannot rely upon it, as it depends entirely on demand amongst children entitled to free travel.

Having reviewed the scheme in recent weeks, a six-week public engagement begins today (Tuesday, August 31) and all interested parties are invited to share their views and ideas through a survey, with a final decision to be taken as soon after as possible to provide clarity to those interested.

This does not affect those who are entitled to free Home to School Transport and it does not affect those aged 16 and over who are eligible for transport to school or college due to their learning difficulty or disability.”

Cllr Price added: “We’re being entirely open by telling people what we think and the reasons why, but we will listen and adapt if there is something reasonable and workable that we can do.

Interested parents have already been told to make their own plans for September and we will continue to keep them informed.”

The council spokesman provided this further background about the scheme: “Pupils who use the Temporary Vacant Seat Scheme (TVSS) are not entitled to free Home to School Transport. It is the parents’ responsibility to have their child attend school.

Updated Government guidance requires vehicles with more than 22 seats to be compliant for disabled access if passengers are charged separately. School transport, where some passengers are entitled to free transport and others are part of the TVSS, falls in this category.

Operators do not have enough compliant vehicles to meet Government guidance. Staffordshire adjoins 13 other local authorities and they’re all facing the same issue – there’s not enough supply to meet demand and operators will charge more than at present for the compliant vehicles that are available.

SCC is undertaking a more detailed survey but feedback from six transport operators so far shows that only a fifth (22 per cent) of their fleets are compliant; full compliance will take between three to seven years and the cost to them is anticipated to be up to £10 million.

If the TVSS operates in a situation where some vehicles are compliant, while others are not, one user on the TVSS would pay a minimum fee of several hundred pounds if travelling on a compliant vehicle, while another TVSS user would travel free if on a non-compliant vehicle.

The TVSS was suspended in June 2020 to create more space on Home to School services for entitled pupils as part of the response to the pandemic and the need for social distancing.

Prior to suspension, TVSS had been free to all parents for ten months while the council considered the implications of the changing Government guidance.”

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