Last year to much condemnation, the Council looked at reducing or scrapping all together the subsidy on post-16 transport in Cornwall, thereby increasing the cost to students.
But last Wednesday the new version of the Children and Families Services Overview & Scrutiny Committee, formed after the council elections in May, voted not to recommend pushing forward with the old proposals. The proposed cuts are part of the choice of services Cornwall Council can support with a diminishing budget.
However the committee did not suggest how the money would otherwise be saved so Portfolio Holder Sally Hawken took the matter to a cabinet meeting yesterday.
She persuaded her colleagues to support an idea to slow down the increase in the bus pass charge, to phase it in over a number of years rather than all at once. For this, extra cash will be needed and some sort of amendment to the draft budget will have to be made – details to be ironed out. The council is finalising proposals ahead of February 13th and formal approval of the Council’s budget inc setting of Council Tax levels for 2018/19. The Council’s 2018/19 post-16 transport policy statement must, by law, be published by 31st May 2018.
The cost of a bus pass depends on where you go to college and what service you use. Students attending Truro College use the college’s own transport scheme and they pay a flat fee of £515 per year no matter where you come from. If you attend anywhere else, like a Cornwall College campus or a local school with a sixth form, you use the Council run scheme and you currently pay £398 per year, no matter here you travel from.
The first proposal on the table was to increase the fee to students on the council scheme to £600 but cabinet quickly saw the absurdity of paying more to travel from Redruth to Pool than from St Just to Truro and the effects it would have on applications, both as an overall number and on the increase in applications to Truro, which would create an imbalance as more people would choose Truro, as it would be cheaper to get to.
The council admits that historically Truro College has got a better deal out of the bus companies than they could get themselves. The cabinet then suggested equalising the cost of a post-16 bus pass in Cornwall to be £515. To be the same, whatever college you choose to attend.
This would still represent an approx 30% jump in price, all at once, for students currently using the Council’s bus scheme. So the proposal is to phase that increase in, without it affecting the money already earmarked for other Children’s services.
Saving at least part of the cost of student’s bus pass should also find support in the wider council if a vote is indeed, as the original proposals were unpopular and Councillors like to be popular. This and stopping the cut to the Citizen’s Advice Bureaus will be the headline changes Full Council will look to make to the budget.
Whilst young people are now required by law to be engaged in education, employment or training up to the age of 18, Cornwall Council does not have a statutory duty to provide home to school/college transport free of charge for learners aged 16 to 19 in the same way as it does for primary and secondary aged pupils aged 4 – 16 (up to the end of Year 11).
The provision of support to students aged 16- 19 is a discretionary payment – this means that currently, even though it doesn’t have to provide subsided transport, the council chooses to do so to support as many of our young people to access education as possible.
Outcomes of a consultation held in February and March 2017 (453 responses) were due to be considered by Cornwall Council’s Cabinet in May 2017. However due to a change in administration, this did not take place. A council report says of the impact a rise in the cost of a bus pass that ‘whilst a number of mitigating actions have been identified in relation to these risks, the potential for negative impact is reflected in the concerns raised by interested parties during the consultation period’.
The committee have also decided as part of the post-16 package to think again and have further public consultations on the proposals to cease to provide mainstream taxi or minibus provision as part of the scheme and develop a programme of independent travel training for learners with an Education, Health and Care Plan and/or disability instead.
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Students are eligible for subsidised transport where they are attending a full-time course at their nearest (or designated) establishment offering the chosen course of study and this is more than three miles from their home address.
Where a student lives within three miles of the establishment but has a disability, medical or mobility problems or individual needs which mean that they could not reasonably be expected to walk the distance required, or Cornwall Council has assessed the route as unsuitable for pedestrian use, they are also eligible for subsidised transport.
“In December we took the budget through the committee but nobody at the point said ‘don’t cut that money cut x instead'” Cllr Sally Hawken told us “so they broadly accepted the outline to the budget. It was identified in the draft budget as ‘post-16 transport saving’ . But if you say don’t cut that you have to offer something else and say take that instead”
At Cornwall Council, committees make ‘recommendations’ to the cabinet, who make the decisions.
Sally added “We looked at the Post-16 transport at the committee on Wednesday and I asked for that to happen because actually the conclusion to what happens will be wrapped up in the budget. Whatever we decide to do next won’t ever be at cabinet as a separate item. I thought it was important to show the results of the consultation.
What i said to cabinet today is that committee feel £515 is still a long way from where we are now. From £398 is too much in one go. We need to move to be charging something that is more like covering the costs.
I would be uncomfortable taking it out of the Children’s budget. I don’t relish cutting the subsidy but across children’s services there are other things that are important too.
I wouldn’t want to put a figure on how much next year’s bus pass will be now, not yet. . Nothing done til we get to final budget stage.”
In 2014 it was agreed by the Council that any increase in future rises should only be in line with inflation each year but the new council argues that because of the drastic cuts in money provided by central government, they need to make further savings.
Whilst no discounts are offered on the Council’s post-16 transport scheme, the 16-19 Bursary Fund is provided by the Government to support the most financially disadvantaged 16-19 year olds with the cost of staying in education or training. Schools and colleges determine their own assessment criteria for eligibility for discretionary bursaries, which is administered by individual establishments rather than the local authority, and many establishments offer financial assistance towards the cost of the Council’s subsidised transport or the school/college’s own transport provision for eligible students.
However, none of the schools or colleges in Cornwall provide SEN transport provision. Such provision is the most costly and in the majority of cases public transport is not suitable and contracted arrangements via taxi/minibus, as well as passenger assistance, is required.
Whilst there is potential for independent travel training in the use of public transport to bring long-term benefits for both students and cost savings, the scope of this is limited and individual transport arrangements will be necessary in a significant number of cases. Furthermore, there is a statutory duty on the council for such transport to be provided free of charge for eligible adults over the age of eighteen.
Government guidelines to local authorities on providing transport to education says “Although on the face of legislation local authorities do not have to provide free or subsidised transport, when making their assessment of what is required, local authorities must act reasonably, taking into account all relevant matters, such as the needs of their population, the local transport infrastructure and the resources available”
The projected gross cost of post-16 transport provision in 2017/18 (based upon current user numbers) is £2.402m. The learner contribution of £398 per annum would generate income of £0.555m, and therefore the net cost of the service is £1.847m. Increasing the learner contribution to £515 per annum would generate a further £0.163m of income, reducing the annual net cost to the council to £1.684m.
A council report says “A post-16 system transport scheme based on the public transport network would not only bring potential savings from a reduction in the need for contracted bus or taxi transport, but in some cases has the potential to reduce the need for a subsidised transport scheme in its entirety”.
Of the 1490 students currently using the Council’s post-16 transport scheme, 1161 (77.9%) are travelling via a bus pass on mainstream transport. 329 (22.1%) have individualised / personalised transport arrangements to meet their SEND needs, which includes 155 (47% of the total post 16 SEN cohort) students attending Truro & Penwith College, 80 accessing Cornwall College campuses, with the remainder attending school based sixth form provision. Of these 329 students, 96 are aged 19 to 25 for which there is a statutory duty to provide transport free of charge. These students’ transport costs are currently met out of the home to school / post 16 transport budget.
The largest net cost in Post-16 transport is for those students with individual transport needs – it is an area of transport that has grown significantly in recent years, with many students from across the county attending Truro College. The long distances involve incur higher costs.
The committee were told that Cornish students are currently subsidised much more than in neighbouring authorities. The current charge of £398 comapres to £560 in Devon and £695 in Somerset. Norfolk, a “statistical neighbour”, charges £504.
The council commissioned their own “Comprehensive Impact Assesment” (CIA) of the proposed changes. The CIA identified a number of potential negative impacts arising from the proposed changes, the key risks being:
- Risk of negative economic and wellbeing impact on young people and
families arising from the increased contribution for transport and
requirement to make own travel arrangements to a bus pick-up point
- Risk of greater adverse impact on those living in rural areas where
there are fewer transport options
- Risk of negative impact on learners with an EHCP and/or disability who
will be required to make their own travel arrangements, supported by
a personal transport budget
A link to the full CIA is here