School transport - sign

Cheshire East has employed a company to review its home to school transport provision as the cost soars, writes Belinda Ryan.

The council says the costs of travel support for children and young people have increased significantly over recent years and are continuing to put pressure on its budget.

A freedom of information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service recently revealed the council pays more than £231,000 a week on taxis for children to get to and from school.

Cheshire East has added £1.2m to the transport budget for 2022/23 to help manage demand, with an additional amount of up to £1m of Covid-19 funding to be drawn down to support the service.

But both were one-off cash top-ups.

Now the council has appointed Edge Public Solutions to look at the current arrangements and costs of school and other transport.

A report due to go before Monday’s (May 23) meeting of the children and families committee states: “The significant pressures on the school transport budget is mainly attributable to demand pressures due to a significant increase in children with special educational needs and operators inflating contract prices to include costs of cleaning/Covid measures.

“In addition, we are experiencing an unusually high level of contract surrenders and contract changes and have had some recent cases where operators have asked for a much higher price to deliver the same contract, or they have had very few bidders particularly for children with complex needs.

“As the capacity of driver and vehicle availability within the local service has currently been reached, we are increasingly having to seek quotes from providers outside of the area at short notice, which increases costs further.

“The current increase in fuel prices is exacerbating the problem.”

The council believes an additional 156 pupils with special needs could require transport over this next school year, and in each subsequent year of the medium term financial strategy – which covers 2022/23 to 2025/26.

It says this will be at an average of between £8,000 and £11,000 per SEND pupil.

The matter will be discussed at Monday’s meeting of the children and families committee which takes place at 2pm at the council’s Westfields HQ at Sandbach.

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