Conservative Councillors have called for an urgent reversal to Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green plans to withdraw home-to-school transport for hundreds of secondary school children.
Oxfordshire’s ‘Spare Seats’ scheme which enables families to purchase a spare seat on busses that take children eligible for Local Authority-funded transport to and from school has been a reliable public service for over 35 years but at the start of this year, Oxfordshire County Council wrote to parents whose children use the service to tell them it will be withdrawn as of September.
Several school transport routes in predominantly rural areas will be cancelled including the 1-WA17 route serving the Warriner School in Bloxham and the 2-ML05 route through the Heyfords to the Marlborough CoE School in Woodstock. Over the medium term, we calculate that some 1400 students could be affected.
Oxfordshire County Council initially defended its decision on the basis that it has no legal obligation to operate the scheme and that the Council will incur a financial cost once bus routes are retendered despite the fact that parents whose children use the scheme pay for the service at no cost to taxpayers. The Council has also stated that the continuation of Spare Seats reinforces children travelling to schools further away than their nearest school.
Local Conservative Councillors have fiercely opposed the move on the grounds that the cancellation of the service compromises the safety of children and deliberately seeks to close off educational choice for parents, in addition to financial and environmental reasons.
At a meeting of Cherwell District Council held earlier this week, Deddington Ward Councillor Eddie Reeves tabled a motion asking the Leader of Cherwell District Council to write to the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council to urge them to reverse their decision. The motion was seconded by Councillor Adam Nell (Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote Ward) but was only supported by Conservative Councillors with Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Councillors either voting against the motion or abstaining on the vote.
In response to the motion, the left-wing administration at OCC has now claimed there has been no change to the operation of the Spare Seats scheme rather that their communication with parents reflects an “ongoing application of a longstanding policy” because the number of spare seats available on a route fluctuates each year as a result of pupil numbers and eligibility but the difference this year is that the reduction in spare seats is so dramatic that some routes are being cancelled altogether so their justifications are, as before, as desperate as they are disingenuous.
We will continue to be on the side of parents and pupils and push for a reversal in policy. For the OCC administration to be dictating to parents in these terms is totally unacceptable.
A full copy of the motion can be downloaded by clicking the link below.