Members of the Cheshire East Council children and families committee agreed to push forward with plans to improve and modernise travel support for children and young people across the borough following an independent review.
The impact of inflation and increased demand for school transport, in particular for children with special educational needs and disabilities, together with shortages in drivers, a reduction in the number of transport operators and the cost of fuel have all put pressure on the council’s budget.
At the time of the review, Cheshire East Council provided travel support for 3,557 children and young people with a budget of around £11 million. The current estimated pressure of £2.5 million on this budget is likely to increase further by the end of the financial year.
In May this year, the council appointed Edge Public Solutions to explore options to reduce the pressure on the travel support budget and improve the customer experience. All with a view to providing recommendations that provide sustainable travel support for children and young people over the next three years.
The independent review includes the following recommendations:
- The creation of an integrated travel team, joined-up travel offer, policy and strategic direction;
- Greater use of software to provide effective routes to meet needs of passengers and best use of suppliers;
- Develop the supply market with improved competition, effective and innovative procurement;
- Robust governance and clear accountabilities, with an enhanced budget and performance culture; and
- Shift the offer to provide ‘travel solutions’ including increased use of personal travel budgets
Councillor Kathryn Flavell, lead member for children and families at Cheshire East Council, said: “I welcome the debate and scrutiny of these proposals to drive forward improvements to this important service as the current arrangements are unsustainable.
“I also welcome the thorough review undertaken by Edge Public Solutions which has highlighted that we are no different from other councils in trying to tackle increasing demand and dwindling supply.
“The children and families committee endorsed the proposals to drive forward the initial transformation plans, achieve savings and set up an integrated travel support team.
“The needs of children and young people will absolutely be central to the plans. We know for some young people, travel training that provides practical support to travel by bus, on foot or bike can help them to travel independently, and without fear, so they can get to school or college. Others need a door-to-door service to meet their needs.
“I recognise that the proposals will mean change for some of our children and families, and we are committed to working together with parents, children, schools and other stakeholders to develop these new ways of working.
“We are living in extremely challenging times financially, but I want to stress that we are required by law to make travel arrangements for certain children to attend school.
“We are investing in increasing the number of school places to help more children attend a local school reducing the need to travel and promoting a healthy lifestyle by walking or cycling where appropriate.”