TORY proposals to cut transport subsidies for youngsters in a bid to save over £700,000 a year have been blasted by the Labour Group.
Derbyshire County Council has invited residents to give their views on the proposals which will see the council spend less on contact visits and transport to parenting courses, use cheaper modes of transport, reduce “assistance” and remove the provision of transport to short breaks.
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. 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, but said 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. He added: “It’s a broadbrush approach for the county. Communities will suffer. Some areas need more cushioning than others.”
The proposed new policy will see 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, and 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. The council has also raised the age limit so that no child in Derbyshire under 11 has to walk up to three miles to school.
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.”
The council currently pays out £5.4 million in transport subsidies, with £1.3 million spent on the b-line concession of 50 per cent for youngsters aged 14 to 19 in full-time education, as well as £460,000 on Gold Card holders.
A review of the bus network last year found that rising costs in the bus industry and the financial climate would necessitate savings of £700,000 in 2011/12, with further savings of between £1 million and £2 million needed in the years ahead. Over 70 school services for children will cease to be subsidised from April 2012 after councillors approved cuts earlier this year, including services to Swanwick Hall School, Mill Hill School in Ripley, Heanor Gate Science College, John Flamsteed Community School in Denby and Heage Primary School.
The consultation finishes on October 17 and can be seen online at www.derbyshire.gov.uk/council?have_your_say.