Rising FUEL PRICES, staff shortages and growing demand for home-to-school transport have left spending on the service £411,000 over budget, according to a new report.
According to the report, from September last year to April this year, pump prices increased by 20 percent and the routes are 46 percent more expensive to operate.
The council made a one-off fuel payment of £26,194 in May, which was split between the nine operators due to unstable and rising fuel prices.
But drivers and school attendants, so-called Vehicle Passenger Assistants (VPAs), also find it difficult for providers. And some have reported a shortage of vehicles.
Three operators have withdrawn from the service after asking for extra money and being turned down by Brighton and Hove City Council. They stopped offering 15 routes for 54 children.
Fewer operators bid on the advertised routes – and their bids are more expensive.
The report to councilors said: “Operators requested financial top-ups when there were no significant changes to routes, e.g. B. Changes in mileage or passenger numbers.
“The service had to re-advertise these routes at short notice to ensure that the affected children could travel to school when school started. This cost the service budget an unbudgeted charge of £123,776.
“At the time of writing, demand for rental transportation has increased by 8.5 percent (47 students) since this time last year.
“Currently 120 children are traveling outside of Brighton and Hove to their education, a 13 per cent increase from this time last year.”
The report to the Council’s Committee on Children, Young People and Skills also said: “The service is currently assisting 560 children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) on 207 trips to and from their educational institution.
“We are also supporting another 600 students by providing a free bus ticket and 48 families by providing a mileage allowance.”
The report added: “Budgetary pressures increase each year as the number of children and young people completing ‘Education and Health Care Plans’ (EHCPs) and entitled to transportation increases. This is the case both nationwide and in the city.
“The number of EHCPs in Brighton and Hove is currently 2,146. That’s an increase from 293 in the last two years and double the number since 2016.”
The council is legally required to transport children with special educational needs and disabilities from home to school and set a budget of £3.9m for the 2022-23 financial year.
The service has been in the spotlight since 2019, when the council worked with advisers to try to reduce the cost of the service, which was then £2.4million a year.
The council struck a £500,000 deal with a consultancy called Edge Public Solutions, which aimed to save a six-figure sum every year.
Instead, the council overspent £1million when the service collapsed, and Edge left the ensuing debacle with £180,000.
The council has since agreed to spend more on school and return transport for at-risk children, although it still spends less money on the service than many comparable councils.
The report to councilors said: “Drivers/VPAs, vehicle shortages and increased fuel prices are not unique to Brighton and Hove. You will be seen all over the country.
“A national benchmarking exercise led by the DfE (Department of Education) is underway to determine the extent of the situation.
“According to the school-to-school contract of carriage, operators are entitled to submit a request for an annual price increase annually until October of each year.
“The timeline has been extended this year as a gesture of goodwill. Three of the nine operators requested price increases.
“This year a 3 per cent increase has been approved on 25 routes, putting an additional £18,000 of budgetary pressure on the service.”
The council is creating a “recovery plan” to try to address the overspending. The aim is to save £99,000 by encouraging parents to step in where possible and checking if so many children have to travel in the car without other children.
The Parent Carers’ Council (PaCC) has emphasized the Council’s legal duty in its own report, which also included positive feedback on the best drivers and escorts.
PaCC said it was monitoring the national picture and that school-to-school transport services offered by several other councils had failed.
PaCC added, “This is typically due to cost-cutting initiatives that drown out an appreciation of the very individual needs of the children and young people served by the home-to-school transportation service.”
Calling for a realistic budget, the group said: “It is imperative that Finance Directorate in Brighton and Hove understand the vulnerabilities and rights of the children and young people who are transported on this service and recognize that their right to education (and related burdens ) free) is protected by law.
“Projections for 2023 and beyond must take into account the triad of stresses arising from increases in passenger numbers (related to an increase in the number of education, health and care plans in the city) and pressures on the cost of living, Our service is exposed to delivery partners (the operators and their drivers and VPA crews) and in particular the cohort of passengers with very individual needs who require ‘traveling alone’ status and/or who attend educational institutions outside Brighton and Hove, which are more expensive / Solo runs.
“The budget must be able to accommodate the variety of requirements of this statutory service.”
But initial estimates suggest the service’s budget would need to increase by £1million to £4.8million next year.
This would be double the annual budget when the council brought in consultants because the service was deemed too expensive.
The Council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee will meet next Monday at 4pm at Brighton Town Hall.
The meeting will be webcast on the Council’s website.
https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/20964135.brighton-hove-city-council-transport-budget-pressure/?ref=rss Brighton and Hove City Council transports budgetary pressures