‘Staggering’ costs of taxis to drive disabled children in Bristol to school have doubled
The costs to the taxpayer of hiring taxis to drive disabled children in Bristol to school have doubled since last year.
Bristol City Council is spending millions of pounds every year on home-to-school transport, with many children driven more than 20 miles away.
A local shortage of special educational needs and disability (SEND) places combined with the rapidly rising number of pupils needing SEND support have led to costs of school transport shooting up. Council bosses are now trying to slow the massive increase.
The council is forecast to spend £11.8 million this year on home-to-school transport, for about 1,200 passengers, adding further pressure on an already stretched education budget.
Vanessa Wilson, director of children and education transformation, told councillors on the people scrutiny commission, on Wednesday, September 27, about the rising costs and the plan to bring them back down.
She said: “Due to a lack of provision in our area, we’re placing more children in schools out of the area. There’s parental choice as well. That’s meant that we’ve seen, just in this last year, a doubling in costs of our transport. So we’ve literally already had in the first few months to add a further 28 additional routes. At the moment all of our transport is taxis.
“We’re looking at an independent travel training programme. It won’t work for every child, but we need to help them become independent as much as we can so that they can travel and go and get jobs, and they’re not just restricted to a particular area or reliant always on someone else. We’re also looking at creating a small fleet ourselves to start disrupting the market and have something that’s better for our children.”
Some drivers are even paid for journeys that don’t take place. If a driver turns up at a home, and a parent tells them their child is not going to school that day, the driver might not inform the council that they didn’t drive their usual trip — and their firm will still get paid for it.
Ms Wilson said: “Taxis will not say to us ‘I didn’t have to do that journey today’. Where for example they’ve turned up and then the parents say to them ‘actually, Johnny’s not going today’, they’re not informing us they haven’t had to continue that route. We have a duty to protect the public purse and make sure that where the money is going is to the right place.
“If you speak — and I’m not talking about Bristol — to taxi firms generally, they will say to you their biggest money-maker is local authorities and home-to-school travel. That’s what’s talked about in the national civil service. It’s about working with that and understanding that.”
Another issue is some parents prefer to choose a school for their children well outside of Bristol. This is partly due to a lack of suitable places with SEND support, but also due to a lack of trust between some parents and schools within the city.
Ms Wilson added: “We’re trying to understand why if there’s a school within the area, what it is that’s put off parents or why they feel that school doesn’t meet their needs. If we can address that, that would help. I can’t believe that all parents want their children to travel 20 miles or plus every day.”