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Councillors to receive update on school transport provision

IT HAS been estimated that for Wrexham Council to reintroduce free transport to post-16 school pupils it would cost the authority more than £1m a year.

According to a new report, the council faces a battle to meet current demand for school transport, with the issue coming under the spotlight again this week.

The authority’s lifelong learning committee will receive a much-anticipated update from lead member for education, Brynffynnon Cllr Phil Wynn (Ind), which delves into the council’s school transport provision and the challenges it faces to deliver its statutory service for school pupils under the age of 16.

Before Christmas, the scrutiny committee had flagged up transport issues for sixth form pupils attending Ysgol Morgan Llwyd and the Maelor School in Penley, after hearing from their respective headteachers.

One of the recommendations the committee made was to request the ruling Independent / Conservative Executive Board look at and possibly reconsider a decision taken in 2015 not to subsidise post-16 transport in light of the current cost of living crisis.

Wrexham Council\’s lead member for education Phil Wynn. Source: Wrexham Council

But earlier this year Cllr Wynn called for patience with the Welsh Government seemingly set to provide an update on its Learner Travel Measure review – a policy which could make it a statutory requirement for councils to fund post-16 transport.

Details of the Learner Travel Measure are still being awaited.

According to the report, action taken in the meantime has included providing earlier notice of concessionary spare seats available, increasing publicity about the recruitment campaign for school escorts, fast tracking recruitment of school escorts, and reviewing hazardous walking routes with a report to the committee earmarked for next year.

When the council removed free post-16 transport in 2015, it saved the authority £350,000 a year.

The report estimates that to re-introduce free post-16 transport in Wrexham now would cost in excess of £1m a year, with the cost of a school bus contract having risen from £120 to £350 per day in the past eight years.

Other challenges outlined in the report include an increase in transport costs due to Brexit, the pandemic and the current conflict in Ukraine.

A lack of competition when tendering for contracts has also been mentioned, with fewer school transport providers now operating.

Detailed within the report, while not a problem unique to Wrexham, recruitment of school escorts is cited as of the authority’s biggest challenges.

The report states that the council currently employs 160 school escorts, with 38 previously on relief contracts having transferred to permanent contracts.

Job offers have been made to 28 interviewees for roles since November, but a small number of these have failed pre-employment checks, and some checks are still outstanding.

Eight of those successful candidates have now started employment but during this period the council also received resignations from another five school escorts.

The report states: “A range of factors mean that this service is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver, with demand currently outweighing the supply available.

“A task-and-finish group of officers has convened to identify and action a range of short, medium and long-term actions to address the current challenges.”

The lifelong learning scrutiny committee meets on Thursday (April 20) to discuss the update.