Spiralling fuel prices are impacting on school transport services, with local authorities set to have to pay providers significantly more or face having thousands of pupils unable to access free transport.
The warning comes in a new report from the County Councils Network (CCN), which analyses pressures in home to school transport services. The 28 local authorities that supplied data to this study transported 248,000 pupils for free last year, of which 51,000 were young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Councils told CCN that due to the arrangements of some contracts local transport providers are exercising break clauses as they are paying more in petrol and diesel. Local authorities are then retendering for these routes, but the retenders are coming back at significantly higher prices.
If councils cannot pay these higher prices, then these routes will be handed back to the council, potentially impacting on thousands of pupils across England.
Cllr Keith Glazier, children’s services spokesperson for the CCN, said that despite the Chancellor announcing a 5p fuel duty cut in Wednesday’s budget, local authorities are in a ‘difficult position’.
'Free school transport is a lifeline for many pupils, but local authorities have been placed in a difficult position owing fuel prices reaching record highs. Transport providers are understandably concerned they are paying much more than a year ago, but it means councils either pay the higher rates they are requesting or potentially see thousands of pupils unable to access free school transport, which is a statutory responsibility for local authorities.
'With our budgets set for the coming year, there is little wriggle room for local authorities, except to reduce other vital services. The Chancellor’s announcements this week will help, but we need further targeted financial support for councils to get them – and transport providers – through this uncertain period and give families the peace of mind that their children’s school transport will continue to run as normal.’