FAMILIES could be forced to pay an extra £100 per month if plans to axe free college and sixth form transport are approved.
One of a number of proposed cost-saving measures put forward by Cheshire West and Chester Council is to end funding for 16-19 year-olds with special needs to travel to school or college – a move criticised by opposition council members.
The cuts could see an increased financial burden placed on families, who will be faced with meeting the added transport costs for sending their children to school.
Cllr David Armstrong, Labour spokesman for children and young people, said: “Sadly, this would appear to be the price families are being made to pay as a result of draconian cuts. To charge 16-19 year old young people with special needs, as well as a small group of youngsters with medical conditions, is particularly pernicious.
“This is surely a cut too far. We recognise the council’s obligations to get children to school transport accounts for millions of pounds of expenditure every year.
Nonetheless, Labour believes this particular group need to receive continuing support from this council.”
The proposed cuts would see about 96 post-16 special educational needs (SEN) young people facing annual transport bills of up to £1,200.
Chester MP Stephen Mosley wrote an open letter to the council earlier this month urging them to rethink the proposals, which have undergone a consultation process.
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.
“While I recognise 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.”
A similar plan has been proposed by the council to end free school transport for SEN children aged up to four.
Cllr Justin Madders, leader of the council opposition, branded the proposed cuts as “inappropriate”, fearing families are being penalised.
“Given the squeeze on living standards being felt by families across the country, we believe it was inappropriate this Tory council even considered including this particular group of young people,” said Cllr Madders.
“Essentially, their families will be financially penalised for having a young person with a disability.
“We are concerned the proposal to end the support for transport that these young people aged between 16-19 with a disability, may have make the consequence of making the future of some of our recently expanded sixth forms uncertain. This proposal should be abandoned.”
Cllr Mark Stocks, executive member for children and families, said: “I would like to thank everyone who responded to our consultation on the Children and Young People’s Transport Review.
“We have received a robust response – more than 700 comments – providing a good range of views to inform our decision-making.
“Several issues have emerged in a number of areas and these will now be looked at by our officers, and the proposals will be reviewed in the light of the responses.
“All comments will be summarised and included in a report to the council’s executive on March 13 when members will take a decision on the proposals.”
The consultation on school transport has now closed. But it is part of the budget proposals being discussed at full council in Winsford in March, with a consultation on the budget currently under way.
The public can have their say by visiting the council’s website at www.cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk in the consultation section.
See full story in the Chester Leader