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No rainy day relief for soaked students

HARD-PRESSED parents and students will have to make do with such arrangements as currently exist for school transport.

A motion presented by Labour member for Llangennech, Cllr Gary Jones, received short shrift from Executive Board Member Hazel Evans at Wednesday’s meeting of the county council.

Cllr Jones’ motion called on the Council to make limited provision for 500 students affected by the sudden withdrawal of commercial bus services which brought children to school just before the start of the current school year.

Gary Jones told councillors that parents and children were being adversely affected by the sudden drop in bus services.

He explained that large bus companies had spent the last decade ignoring the requirement that their vehicles had to be disabled accessible if they carried fare-paying passengers.

As a result of that law, the bus companies had until January next year to provide vehicles up to spec.

Instead, the larger companies had stuck their heads in the sand, while smaller companies simply didn’t have the capital to invest in new vehicles.

He asked, therefore, for subsidised transport from the Council while a long-term solution was sought.

Cllr Hazel Evans said she was sympathetic but her response on the Executive Board’s behalf showed few signs of sympathy – if any.

The problem was not the Council’s responsibility to sort out.

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The bus companies were to blame. So was the Welsh Government which set the mileage for subsidised school transport. What, she wondered rhetorically, about the 8,500 students who did not take public transport to school? What about them? Ultimately getting children to school was the parents’ responsibility, anyway.

As a display of tin-eared obliviousness, Cllr Evans’ performance would take some beating.

Never mind the cost, she didn’t even recognise the figures which Cllr Jones used to support his motion. She didn’t recognise them.

Cllr Jones did not intervene at the time, but he rather punctured Hazel Evans’ self-righteousness when he pointed out – delicately – that the figures came from the local authority’s own officers who dealt with the issue.

Glynog Davies, the Executive Board member for Education, was rather less negative than his colleague, but his sympathy was similarly constrained by the financial implications of providing a service.

He said that the financial outlook was not good and unlikely to improve as councils continued to face uncertainty over future funding from the UK and Welsh Governments and potentially faced being lumbered with more responsibilities without the money to pay for them.

Cllr Deryk Cundy said that his ward, Bynea, had been hit hard by the cut in bus services. Students were left walking to school in unsuitable conditions. He reminded councillors that one of the issues they had just debated was climate change, while queues of cars with their engines idling were forced to wait outside school gates every day. Cllr Cundy said families could not afford money from their already stretched budgets and students’ education could be affected.

Cllr Sharen Davies said the problems were no less serious in Llwynhendy, but that she and her colleague on Llanelli Rural Council, Cllr Jason Hart, had set about trying to find a practical solution rather than just words. She felt that solutions were available if councillors worked constructively in their localities.

Responding to the debate, Cllr Gary Jones made sure he got some retaliation in on Hazel Evans by pointing out officers provided him with the data underpinning his motion.

He proceeded to forcefully point out that the Council carried ample reserves. Those reserves were intended for a rainy day and it was – literally – students who were getting soaked.

The motion failed and a request for a recorded vote was rejected, as it was not asked for at the debate’s outset.