£700,000 transport cuts fury

TORY proposals to cut school transport subsidies for young people in a bid to save more than £700,000 a year have been blasted by the Labour Group.

Derbyshire County Council has invited young people and their parents to give their views on the proposals during the next eight weeks.

But Labour councillor Brian Lucas, shadow cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “Reduced subsidised bus routes affect school children and the elderly. Bus companies will not run services at a loss.

“Where children were previously using subsidised bus services they will find themselves walking if parents can’t take them by alternative means.”

He added that the cuts could affect school attendance levels throughout the county, especially during winter months.

He said: “School attendance may be jeopardised - some pupils may not bother to walk particularly if weather is bad. And with the dark nights it will be particularly dangerous.”

Cllr Lucas encouraged people to take part in the consultation, which finishes on October 17.

However, he also criticised the accessibility of the document, saying that the report was written in “county language” which was not “user friendly.”

He conceded that savings had to be made but that Labour would make transport a priority in Derbyshire and that communities would suffer.

He said: “It’s a broad brush approach for the county. Communities will suffer. Some areas need more cushioning than others.”

The proposed new policy will see the following changes implemented across Derbyshire:

- The parents of children with special educational needs providing transport to short breaks of a night or longer

- Foster carers being paid a mileage rate of 45p a mile for taking children to school and for contact with their parents

- Raising the age limit so that no child in Derbyshire under 11 has to walk up to three miles to school. Nationally the age limit is eight.

- An increase in charges from £190 to £317 a year for children not entitled to free transport who use a spare seat on a vehicle.

Tory councillor Mike Longden, the county council’s cabinet member for education, said: “By raising the age limit for children who walk to school we are benefiting many more families across Derbyshire who will be entitled to free transport.

“We hope that people will find the new policy easier to understand and more accessible. It aims to make sure that we are providing a fair service, getting value for money and promoting independence for young people.

“I’d like to stress that children who are entitled to help with transport costs will continue to receive help from the county council. However, we will continue to ensure that we provide value for money through the use of cost-effective suppliers and careful planning of routes.”

More than 70 school services for children will cease to be subsidised from April 2012 after councillors approved cuts earlier this year, including services to Anthony Gell School in Wirksworth, Highfields School in Matlock and Lady Manners School in Bakewell.

The consultation finishes on October 17 and can be seen online at http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/council/have_your_say/consultation_search/Consultation_search_index/draft_transport_policy_for_children_and_young_children.asp