RCT Council have been consulting on changes to their home to school transport provision. The consultation ends on 28 July. The following response has been submitted from RCT Welsh Lib Dems:
It is difficult to argue against the logic behind some of these proposals. RCT in common with every other Council has to make savings / generate more income and the Home to School Transport bill has been increasing beyond all proportion over the years. That is money that could be spent on schools, or social care or any one of a number of public services that people wish to maintain.
We do not disagree that changes need to be made, although would question whether this is the best way to achieve savings or whether sufficient other options have been explored with regard to bringing down cost.
We appreciate that efforts are being made to continue transport provision for those living between the statutory distance and the current distances. However these costs will inevitable make it unaffordable for some people and possibly lead to lower attendance rates and undoubtedly more cars being used to transport pupils.
Requiring people to pay weekly, termly or yearly is going to be a significant burden for some. It is worrying that the consultation document does not specifically state which of these options will be open to people.
Again we take on board the fact that those on free school meals will pay less and there will be a limit on the number of children parents will be asked to pay for. Yet you will be asking parents to pay out a substantial amount of money up front. A minimum of £70 a month for someone with two children. That is simply not affordable for many and will take some below the poverty line.
The result, as mentioned previously, is that attendance rates will fall and there will be a significant rise in the number of cars around our schools. This will be a particular concern if the proposals to reorganise Rhondda schools goes ahead as there have already been many expressions of concern with regard to safety and the volume of traffic if the 3 - 16 schools go ahead at Porth and Tonypandy.
We are particularly concerned about the effect of these proposals on 6th form students.
It may be that there is no statutory duty to provide free transport but surely there is a moral obligation in an area such as RCT with high deprivation rates and lower than average levels of achievement.
Education is one of the main routes out of poverty. These proposals will lead to an even greater cycle of poverty affecting access to education in turn leading to more poverty.
It is particularly unfair for those who may be affected by the Rhondda and Tonyrefail reorganisation proposals if - despite the huge opposition to them - they go ahead. There a substantial number of students, through no choice of their own, will have to travel much further to school each day.
The somewhat flippant response to questions asked about this at the Cabinet meeting in May was that students could use their EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance). Yet only a small proportion of students receive that allowance. There will yet again be an equality imbalance created by this Council.
Those in receipt of EMA who live close to their school will not have to spend on transport and can instead chose to spend it on other education related items. They will, however, have the money given to them to enable them to do so.
EMA is of course means tested. What of those students from homes where the parental income is just a pound or two above the limit for this allowance to be granted? There having to pay £8.75 a week for transport could well tip the balance in the decision as to whether a 16 year old stays on in school or not. This is unfair and unjust.