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(UK) England's largest councils can't pay for SPED transport costs; 'simply unsustainable'

Nov 17, 2023, Sky News: Taxis to school are 'lifeline' for children with special needs but councils face 'unsustainable' transport costs Sky News speaks to the parents of two boys with special needs who say the transport funding is important as it has allowed them to develop as children should.
England's largest councils have told Sky News they're facing a "simply unsustainable" funding crisis due to the soaring cost of transporting children with special needs to school. More money is now being spent on taxis and minibuses for SEND (Special Educational Needs or Disability) pupils by county councils than on family, youth and sure start services combined.

School transport budgets are being described by the County Councils Network as "increasingly out of control".

Some even face future bankruptcy if expenditure on special needs school transport stays the same, without intervention, it said.

It is also warning some "discretionary services", such as libraries and recycling centres, may have to be cut.

A report by the Isos Partnership, released early to Sky News, predicts the cost of sending children with educational needs to school will top £1.1bn in the next five years.

That figure would mean costs tripling over a decade from £397m in 2018/19 to £1.1bn [$1.4B] in 2027/28.

The number of pupils eligible for free school transport has increased by 120% in the same period from 58,000 to 129,000.

The increase in cost is driven by the "explosion" in the number of children receiving Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs), which set out support needed including transport.

ECHPs are legal documents that all councils must adhere to.

The number of children on these plans has doubled in eight years from 105,000 to 230,000 this year.

The same number of SEND students are also now using cars and taxis as they are minibuses to get to school.

Councillor Tim Oliver, chair of the County Councils Network, describes the rising costs of transport as the "single biggest pressure" facing councils.

He told Sky News the current situation is "simply not sustainable".

"The consequences are that if we can't balance the budgets, then we will have to stop other services," he said.

"It's as simple as that… the discretionary services, so technically that will be the libraries, some councils may have to close their libraries or shorten their hours.

"We will have to look at the cost of the recycling centres.

"The statutory responsibilities are to look after vulnerable people and vulnerable children, social care responsibilities, everything else broadly are discretionary services so all of those potentially will be at risk."

The County Councils Network is warning of a £4bn funding deficit over the next three years. One in 10 councils say they are at risk of insolvency this year, rising to four in 10 in 2024/25 and six in 10 by 2025/26.

Council leaders are calling on the government to step in and provide an "emergency injection of resources" in next week's autumn statement mini-budget.

Lyndsay Critchlow's two sons have been diagnosed with Autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).

Both Harvey, eight, and William, 10, attend a special school around a 40-minute drive away from home.

Their parents can't drive, and so the boys are transported to classes using a private taxi and personal assistant paid for by the council.

It costs around £17,000 [$21K] a year….

A government spokesperson said: "Every child should have access to a high-quality education, including those with special educational needs.

"Councils are responsible for providing the right support for children in their areas, including school transport.

"Our published SEND and AP improvement plan sets out how we will make sure all children with special needs and disabilities receive the support they need.

"We are also putting significant investment into the high needs budget, which is increasing by a further £440m [$548M] for 2024-25, bringing total funding to £10.5bn [$12B] - an increase of over 60% since 2019-20."


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