Agenda item

Learner Travel Policy


The Corporate Director – Education and Family Support submitted a report, The purpose of which, was to:


·         update Cabinet on the outcomes of the consultation exercise approved by Cabinet regarding the proposed changes to the local authority’s Learner Travel Policy; 

·         assist Cabinet in determining whether or not it should progress with any of the  proposals;

·         identify how the proposals would contribute to the overall saving to the Council’s medium-term financial strategy; and

·         report on the outcomes of the independent strategic review of transport.


The Group Manager – Business Strategy and Performance added that one of the aims and objectives of the report, was how the Council could make savings identified in the area of Learner Travel, in order to address the current significant overspend.


In terms of the background to the report, he advised Cabinet that there were a considerable number of complexities outlined therein, so he summarised these as follows:-


  1. Addressing the Local Authority’s statutory responsibility identified in the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure and, in particular, statutory distances and the availability of walked routes to schools.
  2. The Learner Travel budget being under significant pressure, due to £1.9m savings having been made since 2014/15 without a corresponding policy change.
  3. Although such a policy change was made in 2015, it was not significant enough to account for all the expected savings identified in the MTFS
  4. Costs have actually increased across many facets of school transport, for example, ALN, disabled pupils and pupils with complex medical needs.
  5. Assessments of safe routes (to schools) have concluded recently, supporting our ability to implement a policy change with a view to making significant savings to recover from a deficit and address the nuances in the current Learner Travel Policy introduced in 2015. For example, whereby some pupils with siblings, have eligibility for transport, where those without do not. Some older pupils previously in receipt of school transport at former policy distance continue to benefit, where younger pupils do not.


In order to address these issues, the Group Manager – Business Strategy and Performance advised that a public consultation was agreed to be taken forward by Cabinet in July 2019.


The Group Manager – Business Strategy and Performance, referred Members to page 639 of the report (Table 1) for the full MTFS savings and growth in the budget, to address this financial pressure.


He then referred to page 642 of the report and the five proposals that it was considered, would address some of the issues as referred to above, which were detailed in this part of the covering report and in the Public Consultation document (Appendix 1 to the report).


Table 2 in the report, provided details of how the proposals would impact upon pupils and students.


In terms of the consultation, the Group Manager – Business Strategy and Performance confirmed that there were just under 1400 interactions during the public consultation which was a positive response.


Members could see from the detail provided at pages 649 to 651 of the report and in Appendix 2 (the Consultation report), the strength of public feeling both for and against the policy proposals.


Page 651 of the report contained an assessment of each of these proposals.


Table 5 in the report, identified the first policy element with regards to eligibility and safe walking routes, together with the options available to Cabinet, as well as the risks associated with accepting or not accepting that proposal.


The Group Manager – Business Strategy and Performance, emphasised that two important issues to consider, were that firstly in respect of the implementation of the walking routes, assessments of these had been completed and line with legislation, the routes must be considered as either unavailable or not as per the assessments. How these assessments are implemented or applied however, were at the discretion of the Cabinet.


Secondly, that for the proposal to remove nursery provision as illustrated on page 662 of the report, he explained that the likely disproportionate impact of this proposal on Welsh-medium and faith-based education if nursery transport were to be removed, but within the context of the identification that current large bus nursery transport is considered unsafe for nursery pupils.


The report then went on to detail options identified to address the above safety issues for Cabinet’s consideration, for example, through direct payments or the use of smaller vehicles, as the larger vehicles presently being used could not be adapted to meet the needs of nursery pupils safety requirements.


The Group Manager – Business Strategy and Performance, explained that throughout the report, he had referred to the Council’s statutory duty in terms of the provision of school transport, particularly to support Welsh -medium education and the potential savings that needed to be realised also.


He had also referred to the changes to and the impact of the policy proposals and although there is no corresponding legal duty for faith-based education, this had been considered in the same context, especially where the policy proposals may have a disproportionate impact.


He concluded, by stating that the remainder of the report focused on the outcome of the Independent Strategic Review of Transport, that included recommendations independent of the Cabinet report.


The Cabinet Member – Education and Regeneration thanked the Officer for the report and the hard work that had been put into this, in order to reflect all the variables and options that were available to Cabinet in order to make a balance decision on this item.


However, he added that he had a number of suggested amended proposals to form a resolution on the report. He then explained the rationale behind each of these for the benefit of those present in the meeting. These amended proposals were agreed by Cabinet and were reflected in its decision as detailed below. 


RESOLVED:                          That Cabinet proposed:


 (1) That the recommendation regarding statutory distances to schools be deferred and that details of the August 2020 Welsh Government announcement regarding its review of the statutory limits for learner travel be awaited, in order that the local authority can consider in the round how we align BCBC guidelines with WG funding proposals and statutory limits.


(2)  In terms of ALN Travel, that EDSU investigate a system of direct payments to parents, guardians and carers. This could result in a saving, while using a budget to give parents, guardians and carers more flexibility and choice of transport modes.


(3) To remove, as recommended, from the local authority’s Home to School/College Transport Policy, specific examples of the special circumstances where the local authority will provide discretionary transport


(4) In terms of Post-16 Travel that Education and Family Support officers, together with Transportation Officers, continue dialogue recently initiated with First Cymru. We are seeking to engage with First Cymru, other private sector transport providers, Bridgend College and other 16+ providers, in order to make a saving, but more significantly to create a budget which will provide students with a “travel pass”. This would be more flexible than traditional home-to-learning transport and would be a more “adult” solution for young people. This would help to create a new generation of public transport users, and would be a better fit for BCBC’s recently adopted strategy for 16+ education and sixth forms. Also envisaged is a more conventional transport “safety net” for a small number of students without reasonable access to public transport routes.


(5) In terms of Nursery Transport, the concerns outlined in the report are accepted and it is recognised that nursery transport provision cannot continue in its current form and is required to change in the immediate future due to health and safety issues. It is recognised that this is not motivated by a budget cut, however a solution must be cost effective, due to this being a non-statutory function. Officers are therefore requested to move urgently to explore suitable mitigation in order to combat the risks. This could involve, for example, the use of booster cushions and/or the employment of an additional escort on each bus, specifically trained to supervise nursery age passengers. Cabinet request that the alternatives and predicted costs are brought before Members as part of a further report, as soon as possible.


Supporting documents: