Free School Transport

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 29 June 2015.

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Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 2:30, 29 June 2015

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on the provision of free school transport by local authorities.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Minister of State (Communities and Local Government)

Ministers regularly meet colleagues in Government Departments to discuss a variety of topics. Local authorities have discretionary powers to provide free home to school transport beyond their statutory duties and are best placed to balance local priorities against the funding they have available.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

They do have that discretion, but increasingly they are not using it. People who want to send their children to a faith-based school, a grammar school or just the school they want them to go to, not far from the nearest school, are being charged about £500 a time. That is nothing more than a supplement to the council tax. Will the Minister please look into that abuse and stop it?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Minister of State (Communities and Local Government)

I understand that my hon. Friend secured a Westminster Hall debate on this very subject only last Thursday, where he discussed it in considerable detail. He also raised the number of constituency cases and gave examples as he went. I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools in responding to that debate: local authorities need to adopt a reasonable approach, especially in the application of their discretionary powers.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Parents of disabled children face particularly high costs in arranging their children’s travel to school, and of course it is not always possible for those children to make use of public transport. Will the Minister have a conversation with his counterpart in the Department for Education to ensure that local authorities properly address the needs of those children?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Minister of State (Communities and Local Government)

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. It is worth bearing it in mind that the statutory guidance recommends that local authorities adopt an appeals process, which must be published annually on the local authority website and involve a two-stage review by a senior council officer and, if the issue is unresolved, by an independent appeals panel. Any parent who feels that their disabled child’s needs are not being properly looked after has the right to that two-stage appeal process.