Edinburgh Council's school transport costs on the rise as £17.5m paid out since 2016
Council bosses have spent £17.5m on getting pupils to school since 2016 - amid calls for more sustainable methods than taxis to be used by education chiefs.
Council chiefs are spending more each year of transporting pupils to schools – with £17.5m coughed up by the cash-strapped authority since 2016.
A Freedom of Information request found that of the £17.5m spent, almost £700,000 has been through using private taxis to transport youngsters – with Conservatives calling for more sustainable methods to be prioritised. Education bosses have stressed that the majority of the spending is to transport pupils to special schools or for additional support needs.
From April to September this year, £1.5m has been tallied up by Edinburgh City Council on school transport including £141,000 on private taxis. The previous year saw £6m spent including £239,000 on taxis, up from £4.9m the year before and £4.4m in the previous 12 months.
The most expensive journey took place during the current financial year – which saw a 35-mile trip tally up £104.48.
Cllr Ian Perry, the council’s convener for education, said: “The vast majority of our free home to school transport is provided for pupils with additional support needs who travel to schools across the city.
“Using taxis is not necessarily the most appropriate transport for some pupils so our transport team are always working closely with schools to reduce their use. This is achieved in a number of ways by offering bus passes, increasing the use of shared travel options so vehicles aren’t being used by just one child and maximising the use of our own fleet. We’ve already had great success this past year by saving £100,000 and expect to make further significant savings over the coming year.”
The council overspent £12.3m on front-line services in 2018/19 – including £2.4m in the communities and families directorate, which includes education costs as well as homelessness services.
A report to councillors highlights that the “main pressures affecting the directorate were in the areas of homelessness and housing support, home-to-school transport, rising school rolls and community access to schools”.
Opposition councillors have called for the authority to investigate methods of curtailing the spend on taxis in the context of the difficult financial climate.
Conservative education spokesperson, Cllr Callum Laidlaw, said: “While the council has statutory obligations to provide transport to school for certain children it’s clear that taxis should be only be used in very particular circumstances.
“The council must do more to reduce their usage especially given the squeeze on funding from Holyrood.”
In May, the council’s finance and resources committee agreed £32m on travel contracts over four-year period including extensions. The council has anticipated an increase of 26 per cent in relation to demand over the
coming year, with an additional 140 contracts being required to meet demand.
Green Cllr Steve Burgess said: “The most recent guidelines and contracts on assisted school travel were agreed unanimously by all parties in both education committee and finance committee six months ago. So I’d trust that any councillor making comment on how they are put into practice would be aware of that.
“The rules try to strike a balance between making sure that children with additional needs are able to get to schools in the most appropriate way and making sure that this also supports young people to be independent. The Evening News has previously featured stories from families who have seen their service reduced as part of that, which really needs to be looked at very carefully. So, on occasion it will mean that taxis or hire cars are needed but those vehicles should always be for clearly defined needs, and use modern, low-pollution, and, increasingly, electric vehicles.”