Suffolk County Council cabinet agrees to freeze post-16 school transport costs for a year while cost of living pressures remain
Costs for post-16 travel to schools and colleges will not be increased in September as the cost of living crisis bites, council chiefs have confirmed.
Earlier this year, Suffolk County Council consulted on plans to hike the cost of post-16 school transport up by £90, while a £30 increase was proposed for transport for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) students.
The increase had been decided back in June 2018 as part of a series of annual increases that would reduce the amount of subsidy.
But the Conservative administration on Tuesday afternoon agreed to freeze prices at their 2021/22 levels for another year, in response to the cost of living crisis and consultation responses.
It means costs will remain at £930 per year for mainstream transport and £750 for SEND pupils for the 2022/23 academic year.
Cllr Rachel Hood, cabinet member for education, said: “Having taken into account the responses received and having noted that our charges are already in line with neighbouring local authorities, with the fuel, energy and other prices that we are all conscious of rising, at this point the county council doesn’t feel that it would be a good time to ask families to pay any more.
“We are concerned that any uplift would particularly affect less well-off families.
“We are also concerned that any increase may be considered unaffordable and may limit post-16 options for students, which is absolutely not an outcome desired by Suffolk County Council.”
The council confirmed that it would review the charges again in a year’s time for the 2023/24 academic year.
There are no specific grants from the Government to fund travel for students beyond 16, and no statutory requirement is imposed on education authorities to provide post-16 transport.
The consultation, carried out over six weeks in January and February, received 40 responses, 39 of which said an increase would have a reasonable or considerable impact on their families.
Some parents commenting said an increase would mean their child couldn’t attend college or sixth form.
Cllr Caroline Topping, education spokeswoman with the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said: “At this particular time, I breathe a sigh of relief that Suffolk County Council have proposed to maintain costs of post-16 travel to further education.
“The cost of living crisis has affected us all and local government must do all they can to ensure our young people have every opportunity to stay in education.
“It was the government that raised the age from 16 to 18, in which they wanted young people to stay in education, start an apprenticeship, or find training.
“However, the government have not sufficiently funded the provision of transport for those that will struggle to afford what is now a statutory requirement.
“We should be lobbying government to increase the amount of funding that they give to county councils. Young people and parents are having to make the serious decision of not pursuing further education because they cannot afford the travel.
“A young person’s aspirations in life should not be put on hold, nor the long-term benefits to our county, because they can’t afford to get to an education provider.”
Sandy Martin, from the Labour group, said it was “absolutely the right decision” to freeze costs, but added: “The whole policy of charging a significant amount of money to families for post-16 travel – which their young people would not be able to do their post-16 studies if they didn’t travel – is the wrong policy.”