Concerns raised new 20 mph speed limit could increase school transport costs
Rory Sheehan, local democracy reporter
Concerns have been raised that the new 20mph speed limit could push the cost of school transport even higher.
Wrexham Council is currently facing an overspend of £1.7m on school transport on top of the £5.6m that is budgeted for.
Lead member for education, Brynyffynnon Cllr Phil Wynn (Ind), gave an update on the situation to the council’s lifelong learning scrutiny committee.
But concern was raised on behalf of a school transport contractor by the deputy chair of the committee, Pant Cllr Stella Matthews (Lab), that the new 20mph default speed limit could be pushing costs higher for transport operators, which will then in turn be passed on to the council when contracts are renegotiated.
Cllr Matthews said: “Following the 20mph issue, picking up the vehicle, going to the school, then going to where the children are being dropped off – in the past it was taking two hours.
“It’s now taking two-and-a-half hours, so that will increase his staffing costs which will obviously be passed on to us in contracts. Has any account been taken of this?”
Introduced by the Welsh Government, the controversial new 20mph default speed limit has been in force since mid-September.
The council’s head of service strategy Rachel Penman said operators have been told to record and evidence the effects of the new speed limit on their service, so that the council can monitor and look into it going forward.
Updating councillors on the budget Cllr Wynn said: “For me the two drivers for that (overspend) are that there have been significant inflationary pressures on the contracts that have been awarded, be it taxis or bus drivers.
“There is obviously also a change in the dynamic in that there are more complex need pupils with additional learning needs that need a transport package that tends to be disproportionately more expensive but it’s our duty to get those children to school.”
Cllr Wynn added that there had been a struggle to recruit school escorts but vacancies have now been filled.
“I can’t personally see the actual overall spend on school transport coming down for the foreseeable unless there’s a significant change in the cost of fuel”, he added.
Cllr Wynn asked for the budget to be reviewed ahead of 2024-25.
Chairing the meeting, Queensway Cllr Carrie Harper (Plaid) asked about improvements to budget monitoring.
Officers explained that the way contracts are procured is now much easier to monitor.
Last year forecasts were based on fuel expenditure to date and projected upwards but those numbers changed drastically during the year.
The council has now introduced a ‘dynamic purchasing system’ so it is able to monitor contract values, daily rates, and pupil numbers.
Officers added that there is still a shortage of taxi and bus drivers to fulfil provision.
Recommendations were agreed by councillors to bring the issue of school transport costs back to the committee in May or June.
This will include feedback on any cost increases caused by the introduction of the 20mph default speed limit.
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