Midlothian Council targets school bus cuts again

Monday October 9th 2023


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp and Midlothian View Editor, Phil Bowen.

Secondary pupils could have to live more than three miles from school to qualify for free transport, under new proposals from Midlothian council.

In 2019 the council tried to make a similar change but were then forced to reverse the decision due to a backlash from parents, see this article from June 2019 Council changes decision on school transport. At the time parents said they understood that cuts needed to be made but that the council had not consulted, had suggested unsafe walking routes and not looked at alternatives as well as giving little notice of the change.

Despite the need for the council to make savings it has taken the council over four years to progress a consultation. Tomorrow at the full council meeting councillors will be asked to approve a public consultation on plans to increase the distance children have to live before they can travel for free this week as officers warn the current budget for transport faces a £790,000 overspend.

The report to members says increasing the distance from two miles to three miles for secondary students will “encourage wider participation in active travel options such as walking or cycling and to promote the benefits of active and healthy choices.” The report also points out that the cost of home to school transport this year is already over its budget for a second year running.

The report does not state whether any alternatives have been considered. Unlike in 2019 all pupils are now entitled to free bus travel and it is unclear whether council officers plan to consult with Lothian Buses, of which the council has a 5% share, to provide more buses at school times to provide an alternative to the council funded service.

The report also asks councillors to allow education bosses to “carry out an informal consultation with parents of children attending Saltersgate School and our specialist provisions on alternative home to school travel options” but it gives no details of what alternatives they are considering.

The report says increasing the distance secondary pupils in mainstream school have to live to qualify for free transport is good for their budget and the climate.

It adds: “Encouraging physical activity can have a positive impact on mental health and well-being.

“A reduction in the provision of school bus routes could support the council and its community partners to reduce carbon emissions.”

It adds that two thirds of local authorities already operate a three mile minimum for free school transport. There are no plans to increase the two mile limit for primary school children.

Councillors will be asked to approve the consultation at a meeting tomorrow. The report can be READ HERE.

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