'Appalling' move to ditch bus subsidy
TORBAY Council's plans to ditch free or subsidised school transport in September has been branded 'appalling'.
Removing discretionary transport assistance from September 1 would save Torbay Council up to £113,840 a year, a budget meeting heard.
Cllr Chris Lewis said there were 'major demands' on the children's services budget. He said: "We had to look at everything we don't have a statutory duty to deliver and one is school transport."
Cllr Mark Kingscote said the home to school transport cuts were 'regrettable but necessary' and questioned whether more could be done to encourage car sharing.
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The council is obliged to provide transport assistance to pupils of statutory school age if they live further than a specified walking distance from their nearest school.
However, the council currently also gives £70,000 per year to South Devon College, which assists 800 students with travel.
South Devon College principal Stephen Criddle attended the meeting of the council's overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday to voice his concern at the recommendation to immediately end this contribution.
He said: "It's the key barrier to participation and we don't want to see youth unemployment increasing and students not being able to choose where to go to progress in their careers."
The council also spends £22,320 per year on bus passes for 144 students studying in school sixth forms, where they live further than three miles away. Free bus passes for pupils from low income families to any secondary school between two and six miles away cost the council £15,000 per year.
The council also spends £4,000 per year on helping to pay for bus passes for 62 pupils attending St Cuthbert Mayne on grounds of faith, and £2,520 per year supporting 42 pupils at selective schools, in both cases where they meet the qualifying criteria.
A representative from Stagecoach attended the meeting to remind councillors that the cuts could affect the viability of some bus services, if families were unable to afford a bus pass.
Cllr Steve Darling, with murmurs of agreement from others around the table, said it was 'appalling' there was a suggestion the contributions ended immediately rather than being phased out. He said: "People's education could be significantly impacted by having to change establishment."
Mr Criddle added: "I think it would be unfair not to phase it as students come expecting to be able to see their courses through."
The council's head of schools commissioning, Matt Redwood, pointed out if changes were phased, it would take up to seven years for the savings to be made.
He also said that funding was available to support low income families.