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Lib Dem Cllr Antony Hook calls on Kent County Council to introduce in-house school taxi service

The soaring cost of providing cabs to school children could be slashed by Kent County Council (KCC) taking the services in-house.

Authority leaders are facing suggestions KCC could operate its own pupil taxi service to make financial efficiencies.

Cllr Antony Hook
Cllr Antony Hook

In January, KCC reported in budget papers that the net cost of supporting Home to School Transport (HST) was £68.8 million but the costs look set to rise.

More than 6,000 children with special educational needs (SEN) in Kent are given free taxis to classes.

KCC, as a result of squeezed budgets and spiralling costs, faces having to find tens of millions of pounds in savings in the next financial year over and above those being sought this year.

Cllr Antony Hook (Lib Dem) asked if KCC should look at bringing the cab and minibus provision in-house.

But cabinet member for education, Cllr Rory Love (Con), said that it was “highly unlikely”.

“There is no reason why we cannot have our own team of drivers who could be deployed doing other things...”

In recent years, cab firms have reported difficulties in recruiting drivers, especially after the pandemic, and problems in would-be cabbies obtaining licences.

He told Wednesday’s (Nov 1) scrutiny committee at County Hall: “We don’t want to get into running taxi companies and, if we did, we would be looking for the same drivers.

“The other opportunity is for schools to run their own transport services and where that has been trialled it has been quite beneficial. Scaling it up is always going to be one of the difficulties.”

KCC has reported HST costs for SEN pupils between July 2022-23 rocketed by £15m. That spend was driven by a near 11% (668) rise in the number of SEN children being carried by cab.

KCC documents add: “Given the limited number of school days per year, this means that the increase in the average cost per day drives 67% of the total spend increase compared to 33% from the increase in the number of clients.”

Cllr Rory Love. Picture: KCC
Cllr Rory Love. Picture: KCC

The papers add: “Also, there is a significant requirement to improve our commissioning and procurement practice for SEN transport, better scaling contracts so that they benefit from greater resilience and reduced costs.”

Cllr Hook said in-house drivers could be used not just for school runs but for other KCC services too.

He said: “The cost of HST is huge and it is right that we should look for ways of bringing this in-house. There is no reason why we cannot have our own team of drivers who could be deployed doing other things. It must be worth looking at, surely.”

Earlier this year, KCC faced fury from families over plans to end no-cost travel to SEN children over the age of 16 and with educational health care plans (EHCPs) in a bid to shave £700,000 off budgets.

Parents criticised the proposals, saying they faced having to shell out £500 for taxis their children had been taking to attend class.

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