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Birmingham school transport cuts ‘harsh’, says Labour councillor

Birmingham school transport cuts ‘harsh’, says Labour councillor

🕔07.Jan 2013

schoolbusThe first changes to Birmingham’s free home to school transport system in almost 25 years have been approved, with the expectation that wealthier parents will find themselves out of pocket.

A year after the city’s former Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition pulled back from cutting the £17.4 million transport budget, Labour council leaders have pushed through several controversial amendments to save about £850,000 a year.

Cabinet education member Brigid Jones rejected claims that the new rules would hit the poorest families disproportionately, although she accepted that parents with means would be expected to take financial responsibility for ferrying their children to school and back if they were not prepared to let them walk.

As a result of the changes the council will adopt statutory guidelines for free school transport rather than the more generous interpretation that has existed in Birmingham since 1989.

This means that children under the age of eight will only qualify for free transport if they live more than two miles from their school. At the moment, the qualifying distance is more than one mile.

Twenty-six children under eight are expected to lose free bus passes.

Children aged between eight and 11 will qualify for free transport if they live more than three miles from school. At the moment the distance is set at more than one and a half miles.

Pupils attending faith schools will lose free transport, unless they are from low income families.

Free travel will be ended for all children over the age of 16.

Coun Jones (Lab Selly Oak) told a cabinet meeting that children from low income families would continue to receive free transport. Children over 16 with disabilities and special needs already qualify for bursaries worth up to £3,000 a year, from which they would be expected to pay between £300 and £600 to the council for travel to and from school.

Almost 4,000 Birmingham school children qualify for free transport at the moment, most are thought to have special educational needs or are disabled.

The council expects that up to 2,000 children will lose free travel when the changes are fully implemented, saving £850,000 from a £17.4 million school transport budget.

The changes were sharply criticised by Cllr Anita Ward, chairman of the education scrutiny committee. She said the new system had been “rushed through” with insufficient thought given to the impact that the changes were bound to have on special needs children.

And in a very public criticism of Labour council leaders, Cllr Ward (Lab Hodge Hill) told a cabinet meeting that Birmingham had gone from having one of the most generous home to school transport policies in the country to “one of the harshest”.

 

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