County Hall cost-cutters cast their eye over Herts school transport bill - and ‘passenger assistants’ could be for the chop

Taxi drivers are already thoroughly checked by the licensing authority, says County Hall

Taxi drivers are already thoroughly checked by the licensing authority, says County Hall - Credit: Archant

A bid to save a further £250,000 from Herts County Council’s school transport bill could see an end to ‘passenger assistants’ who accompany some pupils on their daily taxi journeys.

The County Hall cost-cutters stress they plan to fund the same number of journeys and the move would affect fewer than 300 children.

They say it would also bring Herts into line with almost all other local authorities.

All taxi drivers are licensed by their local authority and an enhanced DBS check is part of the licensing process, so children would continue to travel safely. All taxi drivers carry a photo ID badge and parents are welcome to inspect this badge at any time.

Any changes would be phased in so children currently in reception would continue to have a passenger assistant until the end of the 2017/18 academic year.

Journeys to special schools for pupils with learning, behavioural, emotional and social difficulties or physical impairments would not be affected.

The county council would also continue to look at applications for passenger assistants from families with specific transport needs.

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Councillor David Williams, County Hall’s cabinet member for education, said: “Like all county councils our finances are being increasingly squeezed, and we are always looking for new ways to get the best value for taxpayers’ money.

“This proposal aims to prioritise the families that need an assistant the most, while also making significant savings. We also have to bear in mind that this service will become increasingly more expensive when the National Living Wage is introduced next year.”

The council’s education panel will decide tomorrow whether to endorse a consultation on the proposals, which would take place in January. Cabinet would then make a final decision on Monday, December 14, on whether the consultation goes ahead.

Councillor Williams said: “Whatever the panel decides, I can assure those parents who may be affected that we will continue to fund a safe journey to school for their children.”

A phased withdrawal would mean:

Children currently in Reception will continue with a passenger assistant until the end of the 2017/18 academic year

Children in Year 1 will continue with a passenger assistant until the end of the 2016/17 academic year

Children in Year 2 or above will continue with a passenger assistant until the end of the 2015/16 academic year

The panel papers are available online hereNotes to editors:

The majority of journeys which would be affected are taxis for children who live over the statutory walking distance from the nearest school with an available place, or because the route to the nearest school is deemed unsafe. It is not feasible for primary children to travel alone on public transport and therefore, in most cases, the only alternative is travel by taxi.

The council also provides alternative assistance, for example:

• a mileage allowance for parents who prefer to transport their children themselves (even though they have a statutory entitlement to assistance)

• a companion bus pass which allows parents who don’t drive to accompany their child by public bus.

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