NOTE: This content is old - Published: Monday, Feb 18th, 2019.
A consultation has been launched as part of a review which could see free travel removed for students in post-16 education in Flintshire.
Introducing an annual charge of between £150 to £450 is one of six options being considered by the local authority as it faces mounting financial pressures.
The current policy allows free transport for students attending full-time courses, as long as they live three miles or further from their nearest suitable school or college.
However, senior figures at Flintshire Council said providing the discretionary service costs £860,000 a year.
They are now seeking views on several possibilities, including whether to bring in fees for all schools and colleges, stop the service entirely or keep it as it is.
Another option includes introducing charges, but waiving them for individual groups, such as students who receive free school meals and those attending Welsh medium and faith schools.
Cllr Ian Roberts (Lab), cabinet member for education and youth, acknowledged there would be an impact on families if free travel was removed, but said the review was necessary in light of the budget gap the authority is facing.
He said: “If we did nothing across the board the budget gap would be £15.6m this year so doing nothing is not an option without impacting on services somewhere else.
“There’s six options there from doing nothing to the whole withdrawal and we would like responses from people to see what their views are.
“We realise it will impact people whatever the charge is set at, but the days when there was something for free are not here any more.
“As this comes forward, on Tuesday council are making a decision on council tax for next year and members and officers are very concerned about the decision.
“This is not filling any gaps this year or next year, but if the decision is made it may help to make the decision easier further down the line.”
Cllr Roberts has encouraged all schools, colleges and people affected to take part in the consultation exercise, which launches today.
As part of the review, the council is also debating whether to remove free travel for youngsters whose families are in receipt of benefits to save £10,000 per year.
Flintshire is currently the only area in Wales where the discretionary benefit entitlement has been retained.
The consultation runs until April 5, 2019, and residents are invited to comment by visiting https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/SchoolTransportPolicy
If the council’s cabinet approves changes to the policy, the earliest they will be implemented is September 2020.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).