Flintshire Council leader approves u-turn on plans to axe free transport for college and sixth form students
The leader of Flintshire Council has approved a u-turn on plans to scrap free transport for hundreds of college and sixth form students.
Labour’s Ian Roberts said new UK Government legislation meant the local authority would have been required to upgrade its entire bus fleet had it introduced charges of up to £450 a year as originally agreed last summer.
The council currently offers free travel for 2,000 youngsters to their nearest post-16 education provider, but is one of few left in Wales still delivering the discretionary service at a cost of about £860,000 a year.
The ruling administration had hoped to save money by only providing the complimentary service for students who receive free school meals from September.
However, the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) prevent charging for places on buses and coaches which are not fully accessible for disabled people.
The authority has now come to an alternative arrangement by agreeing a cost sharing initiative with Coleg Cambria, a further and higher education college which has campuses in Deeside and Northop.
Cllr Roberts, who is also cabinet member for education, said the impact of meeting the regulations would have been significant.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said: “It was with a very heavy heart that the original decision was made. However, given the financial circumstances faced in the council there was very little choice.
“There were two factors in reversing the decision, the first one being PSVAR regulations which mean that we cannot charge for transport which isn’t fully accessible.
“The implications of that on vehicles is absolutely immense and would more or less require a new transport stock with the exception of some vehicles which are already adapted.
“The second one is our partnership with Coleg Cambria which wil hopefully lead to a more equitable cost sharing.”
The council’s budget for 2020/21 had included an expected extra income of £449,000 from the fees.
A senior officer said the impact on its finances would be closer to £770,000 for a full financial year.
But Cllr Roberts declared himself content with the new arrangement.
He said: “We have a commitment from Coleg Cambria that they will be supporting their transport services.
“It’s really good to work with other public sector partners to ensure the best for the learners, because in the end that’s what this should be about.
“The vast majority of cabinet members and officers are really pleased at where we’re at now.”
Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).
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