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Monday, 01 September 2014

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Free school transport to continue for low income teenagers in Cumbria

Cumbria County Council has confirmed that students over 16 from low income families will still receive free transport to school and college.

The council announced today that its cabinet confirmed the continuation of free transport for post-16 students,and that students above 16 will have top priority for places in the council's 'spare seats' scheme.

In February, the county council agreed its budget for 2014/15, and one of the savings approved was to remove the subsidised seats scheme for post-16 students.

Every year the county council has a statutory duty to publish its Post-16 Transport Policy Statement, and this year’s has now been approved by Cabinet. It confirms how the budget decision will work in practice.

One of the misconceptions about the council's decision to remove the subsidised service is that the council will continue to provide transport to all Post 16 students, and families will be expected to pay the full cost of the formerly subsidised service, which last year was on average £1,114 per pupil.

The reality is that the only Post 16 students the council will be directly providing transport for are those from low income families. All others will, in the first instance, need to talk to their education provider to see whether they are providing transport, or to make their own arrangements.

The county council will make any spare seats on its contracted routes available to Post 16 education providers for them to purchase on behalf of their students. The charge for spare seats in the 2014/15 academic year will be £360 per student.

Under the criteria now agreed by Cabinet, post-16 students will have the top priority for spare seats before other students (some under 16 students who aren’t eligible for free transport currently buy spare seats, eg those living closer to school than the statutory distance for free transport, or those not attending their catchment school).

Since making its decision in February, officers from the county council have been meeting and working with education providers all over the county to help them manage the change and offer advice and guidance on public transport alternatives and how to procure and tender for transport for their students if appropriate.

Post 16 education providers are also being offered advice as to the potential number of spare seats on specific routes to their establishment so they can either purchase seats from the council on behalf of their students or, if appropriate, give input and guidance to the council on its procurement process (for example, requesting an increase in the size of a bus that the council is procuring so that more post-16 students can be accommodated).

As long as the education provider meets the full cost of any increased capacity needed for post-16 students, this is something the county council is willing to help co-ordinate.

Cllr Keith Little, Cabinet member responsible for transport, said: “We have been having a very productive dialogue with schools and colleges to explore the potential for them to provide alternative, sustainable solutions.

It is ultimately the responsibility of parents and carers to ensure Post 16 students can access their school or college, but we are working hard to ensure that they can use any slack in the existing system to their advantage.”

The decision will save £1m a year once fully implemented, but is being phased in so that students currently in Year 12 moving into Year 13 in September will still be offered subsidised transport (at this year’s rate of £360 per year) as they made their education choice based on the assumption there would be a subsidised bus service.

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