Home-to-school transport rules must change to be fair says county council leader

The leader of Essex County Council has said current home-to-school transport rules favour some people “who may not need it as much as some families who need it desperately”.

Councillor Kevin Bentley’s comments were made as figures were revealed that Essex County Council has posted a £2.4m overspend on home-to-school transport at its half-yearly stage.

Of that £1.7m has come from unfunded pressures within hired transport due to a number of factors which include “more complex passenger needs and further mileage travelled”.

Added to that is an estimated £600,000 added cost to transporting 176 asylum students from hotels to 20 mainstream schools across the county.

The council has said that work is underway, which includes detailed data analysis, to fully understand what is driving the additional costs in order to develop a plan to manage the escalating costs.

But Cllr Bentley said rules governing who can access home-to-school transport needed to change to make it more equitable.

He told the Corporate Policy and Scrutiny Committee on November 7: “There are some things the government could do – home-to-school transport is an area where we are seeing an increase.

“We are still working on legislation written decades ago and it’s woefully out of date.

“And I do question some of the ways some people can get home-to-school transport who may not need it as much as some families who need it desperately and can’t access it because of the rules we have.

“That really does need to be looked at very carefully and to be fair and be equal to everyone.”

The council has seen a £12.7m overspend at the half-yearly point (equivalent to 1.2 per cent) which the cabinet member for finance has said is unprecedented.

The council has said children’s services overspent in total by £16.6m – due to higher levels of complexity and cost of placements, adult social care has seen an overspend of £4.8m due to reablement capacity issues and a delay in delivery of the organisation-wide staffing review has not seen the £5m saving it had planned for.

Those are being offset with savings from higher levels of income on interest earned plus reduced expectations on capital financing costs as well as smaller energy costs than expected.

Cabinet member for finance Councillor Chris Whitbread said: “Times are challenging. At the half-year mark, we had an overspend on our revenue budget which I have not seen in my time previously.

At this point in the year, you start to see savings solidify. But I have to say this is the most challenging year we have faced with an overspend in revenue – primarily through children’s services and the cost and complexity of some of the cases that are now coming through but also through adult social care and home-to-school transport as well.

“There are a number of pressures on the revenue spend that is making us overspend at the present time. And I have got no reason to believe that will change any time soon.”


Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter