Councillors vote to continue school transport for special needs schools

Nik Johnson launched a petition to save school transport for special schools in Cambridgeshire.

Nik Johnson launched a petition to save school transport for special schools in Cambridgeshire. - Credit: ARCHANT

A decision has been made that the existing After School Club Transport arrangements for pupils with special needs will continue across Cambridgeshire.

Councillors on Cambridgeshire County Council's Children and Young People's Committee (CYPC) voted unanimously on Tuesday afternoon (May 17) and agreed to a further review in 12 months time.

Councillors also voted that officers should further explore a means-tested approach to After School Club Transport and recommended that additional funding be approved for transport provision to be extended to other special needs schools should they want it.

Spring Common Academy in Huntingdon, Samuel Pepys School in St Neots, Highfields Academy in Ely, Granta School in Linton, and Castle School in Cambridge are the fives schools currently provided with free transport.

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, said: "I am pleased to see the report and recommendations from the County Council officers as laid out before you today.

"I wish to commend the officers for their hard work in undertaking the consultation and for showing a real understanding of the problem and a willingness to listen to the concerns of the large number of people who responded.

"I would like to acknowledge the campaigning and advocacy work of Nadia Bowes – along with her daughter Chloe – who were inspiring in their ability to highlight the importance of this transport service for a small but very important group of children in our community. I would also like to thank the thousands of people who signed the petition years ago who also put the huge weight of public support behind Nadia’s campaign.

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"It is to the credit of the previous chair of the Committee, Cllr Simon Bywater, who was willing to reconsider the decision to reduce the service and continue its funding whilst this consultation was undertaken.

"The review of the proposals and a consultation with a willingness to listen to the children and their families means we are here today in a much more positive position.

"My personal involvement started a long time ago in my role as both Chloe’s doctor and a local district councillor. However, now as a Mayor, I acutely recognise the challenges we now have in local government with challenging and finite financial resources, but I trust you will do the right thing.

"In trying to make these proposals work for the children and their families, I am keen to offer you the support of the Combined Authority in helping explore innovative, collaborative solutions to ensure that the provision of the transport service continues long into the future and it remains accessible and affordable to as many children as possible.

"The 3 Cs are in action here - Thank you for showing your “compassion”, thank you for your willingness to “cooperate”, and thank you for helping these children in your “community”.

Mayor Johnson had launched a petition in February 2020 opposing the CYPC's agreement made in January 2020 to consult on a proposal to cease the After School Transport provision.

The decision was made due to the CYPC forecasting that they would overspend their budgetary constraints.

Backlash and support against the decision resulted in a new consultation between January 31 and March 11 to seek views on a range of proposed options from a broader range of groups, including parents, carers and school staff.

Of the 37 respondents, the majority (23) stressed the need for the service to continue with the existing free arrangements.

Parent Nadia Bowes said: “I welcome and am very grateful for the recommendation to continue the after school transport provision for a further 12 months.

"Currently, I think families with children with disabilities are incredibly anxious regarding the cost of living crisis and maintaining the already compromised quality of life for their children. It is well documented in research that poverty and disability are interlinked.

While understandable that the local authority wants to consider means testing in the future, it may be fitting to investigate this further following the coming winter months as I believe families' financial situations may change dramatically owing to the continued rising costs."