Posted: Tue 14th May 2024

Council ‘wont tolerate ever spiralling increase costs’ for school transport from local providers

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Wrexham Council “won’t tolerate the ever spiralling” rising costs for school transport from local providers, a senior councillor has said.

The comments were during a meeting of the Lifelong Learning scrutiny committee which were examining an update on school transport provision.

The issue which has been a hot topic in the last couple of years following concerns raised as well as the wider budget pressures the council is in.

Around 2,600 Wrexham pupils use school transport provided through a range of coaches, minibuses and cars – delivered by third-party transport operators. The council have a legal duty to provide transport for eligible pupils under the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure.

A number of students are also provided with ‘passes’ for public transport where this suits their circumstances.

Passenger assistants (school escorts) are provided where they are required, based on an assessment of need.

The meeting was told that the budget for the provision of school transport for the 2023-24 was £5.7m, and although a range of measures had been taken to reduce the ‘forecast pressure’ down to £1.8m rather than £2.5m ,”..the latest forecast, based on the position at the end of February 2024, remains at a £1.8m budget pressure”. Next year the budget is set to £6.89m, “…which will reduce the pressure given that demand will not reduce significantly in the future”.

Councillors were told single occupancy vehicle journeys are a significant cost to the local authority but are often required, due to: the pupil’s need, the requirement for a child’s parent to accompany them on the journey or the geographical circumstances of the journey. The cost of single occupancy vehicle journeys to the local authority at present is £934,762 per year.

Another issue is transporting pupils to school when they live less than the mileage threshold from school but that the route is deemed hazardous. This costs the council around £360k a year. Stats before the committee state at present, 622 pupils are transported by the local authority. 66% of the 622 journeys would be less than 2 miles’ walk to school with 29% of the total being less than a 1 mile walk.

The meeting was told, “We have looked at a range of types of journeys, types of vehicles, including single occupancy, those journeys that are escorted, hazardous routes, those journeys that go out of county, as well as the way that we contract. Using a new dynamic purchasing system has made a difference in terms of how operators tend for journeys, and in terms of ensuring that we are being robust and doing more regular reviews.”

The reports and officers told the meeting how Wrexham Council are exploring the possibility of purchasing/leasing vehicles and creating a job description for drivers to be directly employed by the council for some the higher cost journeys.

A pilot scheme is being rolled out, “If feasible this may also give the opportunity for other journeys to be supported outside of school drop-off and pick-up times”

The Lead Member for Education Phil Wynn said, “I was in Cardiff last week with fellow education portfolio holders and the pressures for school transport are there in every county, unfortunately. It is the market that currently is dictating higher prices than we would want to pay.

“But, we have a statutory obligation to get children to school in various circumstances, and therefore we are compelled by the market.

“We want to look at whether we can actually employ our own drivers, and use vehicles that are owned by the council, in our fleet, to see if we can actually transport some ourselves.

“That’s a review that needs to be carried out, and implemented as a pilot in September. If it’s proven that financially is going to make a saving and if we can do that, and it’s equally as good as service for the pupil, then that is something that we could potentially look to roll out.

“There was a report presented to elected members about a month ago about the fleet, where we have 48 mini buses parked up invariably in schools, which could be used.

“It is an area that we do want to look at, because then that will send out a message to the market that we don’t want to be tolerating an ever spiralling increase cost scenario as and when these contracts come in to be bid by taxi operators locally.”

Cllr Wynn also noted in some circumstances Wrexham Council could go with a cheaper taxi contract out of county than those in Wrexham, adding “This is how ruthless we’re going to have to be going forward” to control and reduce the overspends.”

 



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