Chester’s Tory MP has written an open letter to the chief executive of the council criticising two of their proposed changes to school transport for young people in the area.
In a letter to Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) chief executive Steve Robinson, MP Stephen Mosley says the removal of free school transport for children with special educational needs (SEN) would leave them unreasonably disadvantaged.
Under proposed CWaC changes to the school transport system, which are out for consulatation until the end of January, some children in the area will no longer receive home to school transport free of charge.
In his letter, which was shared with the Leader, Mr Mosley said: “For many SEN children, local schools are not equipped to match their needs. They are left with little choice but to travel significant distances in order to attend a suitable school.
“Coping with this is a challenge uniquely faced by parents of children with special educational needs and the council must support them in overcoming the barriers to an effective education.
“I recognise the challenge that the reduction in expenditure represents for local councils. While this challenge is not unique to local authorities, with all tiers of government working hard to deliver the best deal for taxpayers and service users alike, many of the front-line services on which my constituents depend are delivered by Cheshire West and Chester. It is imperative the council finds the most efficient way to deliver high quality front-line public services.”
Mr Mosley’s objections stem from two council proposals to remove free school transport for youngsters with complex special needs in the area, aged between 16 and 19, whose needs mean they are prevented from walking to schools within a suggested three mile radius.”
Mr Mosley said: “Two of the council’s proposed changes to the funding of home to school transport do not, in my opinion, meet the council’s stated objective of putting West Cheshire’s residents first.
“For many SEN children, local schools are not equipped to match their needs; they are left with little choice but to travel significant distances in order to attend a suitable school. Coping with this is a challenge uniquely faced by parents of children with special educational needs and the council must support them in overcoming the barriers to an effective education.
“That is why I oppose proposal three, which recommends introducing an annual charge of £1,200 for 16 to19-year-olds who have complex special needs which prevent them walking to a suitable school within three miles, or where there is no suitable school within three miles at all. One hundred and fifty 16 to19-year-olds are currently in this category, 56 of whom would continue to receive free transport on a means tested basis. In total, 96 post-16 SEN young people would find their school transport now costing £1,200 a year.”
Mr Mosley also critcised plans to introduce the same £1,200 charge for SEN children from the ages of 0-4, of which there are currently six children in the borough in receipt of free transport.
Mr Mosley added: “While I recognise that every penny counts and local authorities must always work hard to cut costs, charging some of our most vulnerable residents for essential services is not the correct way to go about this.
“Therefore I would urge Cheshire West and Chester Council to think again about these proposals and to stand up for those who have done least to deserve the circumstances they find themselves in – children with special educational needs.”
In response CWaC spokesman Rachel Ashley said: “We would like to thank Mr Mosley and all service users and stakeholders who have taken the time to respond to the consultation on proposed changes to Home to School Transport Policy.
“It is pleasing Mr Mosley acknowledges the council goes to ‘great lengths’ to consult on its proposals.
“This consultation has been run over a 12 week period with public drop in events across the borough to ensure we reach as many service users as possible, offering them the opportunity to speak personally to council staff to address individual concerns or answer specific questions.
“We would encourage anyone who has not already responded to do so before the closing date of January 24, and share with us what the proposals would mean to them, their families or their communities.
“All consultation responses are shared with the Council’s executive as part of the decision making process.”
See full story in the Chester Leader