Wrexham Council’s Executive Board has been accused of ‘passing the buck’ on the issue of funding for post-16 school transport.
Before Christmas the authority’s Lifelong Learning 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.
But when the matter was brought to the Executive Board this week, lead member for education Brynffynnon Cllr Phil Wynn (Ind) had made a late amendment to recommendations, which was to ask the Welsh Government for an update on its Learner Travel Measure review – a policy which could make it a statutory requirement for councils to fund post-16 transport.
Cllr Wynn maintained he had a personal commitment to resolving issues raised in scrutiny, with a report due at that committee’s April meeting.
Deputy leader of the council, Pant and Johnstown Cllr David A Bithell (Ind) backed the amendment adding: “I’m quite comfortable with the amended recommendation to await guidance from Welsh Government on the Learner Travel Wales Measure which they’re currently undertaking.
“I also support the recommendation for the chair of the Lifelong Learning committee to prepare a report to the executive board on the other recommendations highlighted at their meeting.”
But the late amendments took opposition councillors by surprise and left them feeling that the executive board was kicking the issue into the long grass.
Grosvenor Cllr Marc Jones (Plaid) said: “There’s a slight surprise somebody is choosing to amend their own recommendations and that does make it quite difficult to understand exactly what the amendment means.
“I think the amendment is passing the buck. The scrutiny committee wanted this to come to Executive Board and it seems to me the Executive Board is passing the buck back to scrutiny.
“The lead member was saying the right things in accepting responsibility for improving access to those schools.
“It is the timescales that are key to this. The sooner schools know there is access to transport, the better, because pupils decide on their futures post-16 quite early in the academic year and school transport is a part of those considerations.”
Cllr Jones referenced the free transport provided by Coleg Cambria to all learners attending their campuses.
He added that the number of pupils set to join Ysgol Morgan Llwyd next year was double that of the current Year 11 and that “this is an issue that is not going to go away”.
“The longer-term solution has to be that schools can plan ahead in terms of sixth form transport”, he said.
Cllr Wynn called for patience until the issue goes back to scrutiny in April, adding that only four sixth formers travelling to the Maelor School and Ysgol Morgan Llwyd access the council’s concessionary offer.
In support of Cllr Wynn, Cllr Bithell added that there would be a significant cost to council of introducing post-16 transport.
He added: “If Welsh Government come back to this council saying you have to introduce post-16 transport then it is something this Executive Board and council will have to consider.”
The Executive Board voted to agree to Cllr Wynn’s amended recommendations to await the outcome of the Welsh Government’s Learner Travel Measure review, and the Lifelong Learning scrutiny committee report due in April.