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Removing free school travel 'will save £2m'
9:00am Tuesday 5th November 2013 in News
COUNCIL officials say they are looking at saving up to £2m by withdrawing free school buses for some pupils – months after postponing similar plans.
Oxfordshire County Council has announced it wants to hold a series of talks with members of the public over the plans as it aims to make £61m of savings to its overall budget.
At the moment, all pupils can get a free bus to school in their catchment area – even if there are closer schools they could go to.
Earlier this year, the authority caused outrage after it proposed charging eligible parents up to £584 a year if they did not send their child to the nearest school.
Now, after carrying out a review in the wake of that backlash, it says it still wants to push on with ending free bus services for some youngsters.
The council says that it is not sustainable for pupils to benefit from free buses when there are closer schools instead.
But the authority says that some pupils who live close to two schools – those in what they are calling travel areas, such as where a village has two nearby schools – could still be able to benefit from free transport if they do not necessarily go to the closest establishment.
Melinda Tilley, cabinet member for children, education and families, said the Conservative-led authority had “used the time since to consider the feedback received and put new options on the table for public comment”.
She said: “The reason we are looking at travel areas is because there are some anomalies where the nearest school is one no-one has ever gone to and there is no association with it.”
For example, she said Kingston Bagpuize youngsters go to Faringdon Community College or Matthew Arnold, although the nearest is Larkmead School.
The new plans would also see a rise in the cost of concessionary fares for school pupils and post-16 students not entitled to free buses.
Under the council’s new plans, it will set up travel areas within which eligible youngsters can still go to a local school of their choosing for free.
For instance, the travel area for Cumnor’s Matthew Arnold School includes Kennington, south Oxford, as well as Botley, an area that is closer to the school. The changes will apply only to children who live too far from home to walk – two miles for under-eights and three miles for over-eights.
The earliest they would start for some pupils under the proposals is September 2015, but they could be phased in more gradually.
A campaign group said the re-drafted plans did not go far enough.
Sue Moon, Oxon School Bus Action Group, said: “Obviously we object to them bringing back the nearest school proposals when 95 per cent of parents and governors objected to this.
“This is one example of where the council has listened but it doesn’t go far enough. There are a lot of parents in Oxfordshire for whom paying £600 for school transport is a lot of money, and you cannot drive your children to school if you have got a job or another child to take to primary school.”
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