With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 3Complaints about transport arrangements
(1) After section 509AE of the Education Act 1996 (complaints about transport arrangements etc for persons of sixth form age in England) insert
509AF Complaints about transport arrangements etc for certain young adults
(1) A local education authority may revise a statement prepared under section 508F to change the arrangements specified under subsection (1) of that section if, as a result of a certain young adults transport complaint, they have come to consider the change necessary for the purpose mentioned in that subsection.
(2) A local education authority must revise a statement prepared under section 508F to change the arrangements specified under subsection (1) of that section if, as a result of a certain young adult transport complaint, the Secretary of State has directed them to do so.
(3) An authority that revises a statement under subsections (1) or (2) must publish the revised statement and a description of the revision as soon as practicable.
(4) The Secretary of State need not consider whether to exercise any power under sections 496 to 497A (powers to prevent unreasonable exercise of functions, etc) or subsection (2) of this section in response to a matter that is, or could have been, the subject of a certain young adult transport complaint made to him or her unless satisfied that
(a) the matter has been brought to the notice of the local education authority concerned, and
(b) the authority has had a reasonable opportunity to investigate the matter and respond.
(5) In this section certain young adult transport complaint means a complaint that is
(a) about a local education authoritys exercise of, or failure to exercise, a function under sections 508F to 509AD in relation to certain young adults,
(b) made by a person who is, or will be, a relevant young adult when the matter complained of has effect, or by a parent of such a person, and
(c) made by a certain young adult as defined by section 508F (8).
(6) For the purposes of sections 508G(8), 509AB(1) to (5), and 509AD, the revision of a statement under this section is to be treated as the preparation of a statement under section 508F.
(7) Where a local authority has published in a single document a statement prepared under section 508G and a statement prepared under 509AA, the requirement to publish a revised statement under subsection (3) is to be treated as a requirement to publish a version of the document that includes the revised statement..
(2) In section 496 of the Education Act 1996 (power of Secretary of State to prevent unreasonable exercise of functions), after subsection (4) (as inserted by section 206(1) of this Act) insert
(6) This section is subject to section 509AF (complaints about transport arrangements etc for certain young adults in England)..
(3) In section 497 of the Education Act 1996 (general default powers of Secretary of State), after subsection (6) insert
(7) This section is subject to section 509AF (complaints about transport arrangements etc for certain young adults in England)..
(4) In section 497A of the Education Act 1996 (power of Secretary of State to secure proper performance of LEAs functions), at end insert
(9) This section is subject to section 509AF (complaints about transport arrangements etc for certain young adults in England)...(Annette Brooke.)
New clause 4Power of the Secretary of State to direct a review of arrangements
(1) The Secretary of State may direct one or more local authorities to undertake a review of their transport policy statement.
(2) The provision which may be made by a direction includes provision for
(a) the timetable for the review and for the preparation and publication of a scheme,
(b) the procedures to be followed in carrying out the review,
(c) particular issues which the review and any scheme must address, and
(d) the implementation of any policy..
I shall be brief on these points. New clause 3 relates to complaints about transport arrangements, and the Minister has already alluded to the fact that there is a system within the Bill. We welcome the improved route of appeal for young people of sixth-form age and their parents on local authority transport arrangements. However, since local authorities have a duty to provide transport where necessary for learners with learning difficulties or disabilities up to the age of 25, we feel that those students should have the same right of redress. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give that serious consideration.
New clause 4 suggests that the Secretary of State may intervene. The Bill seeks to strengthen existing duties on local authorities, but colleges have genuine concerns that some local authorities have not been fulfilling their statutory duties to produce appropriate transport plans. As a backstop, the power to review any arrangements for transport would ensure that they are effectively planned and, most importantly, implemented, so that the whole scheme works to the advantage of our young people.
Clause 53 introduces new arrangements for sixth-form transport complaints. Local authorities will have a new power to amend their transport policy statements during the year, to take account of complaints or in response to direction from the Secretary of State. An updated statement will be published with a description of the change, ensuring that young people and their parents can always access up-to-date information about the transport and financial assessment arrangements available to them.
Sixth-form transport complaints will need to be considered locally, before being brought to the attention of the Secretary of State. Complaints addressed locally can be resolved more quickly and effectively, as that would take account of local context. Taken together, the measures will lead to more responsive sixth-form transport policies, as local authorities will have greater awareness of any problems that learners face in accessing provision and will have a power to amend their transport policy statements in response to complaints where necessary.
With regard to young people aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities, the changes in proposed new section 508G in clause 54 take us a step forward by ensuring that they will be given the information that they need about the transport provision available to them.
In relation to new clause 3, we agree that complaints are usually best addressed locally, as they can be resolved more quickly and effectively, but we need to reflect further on the points made by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. I ask the hon. Lady not to press it to a vote, because I shall reflect further on that.
On new clause 4, I am sure that the hon. Lady would agree that we trust local authorities to manage and review their own transport arrangements for young people of sixth-form age. When there are complaints about transport arrangements, the changes made in the Bill will ensure that there are effective arrangements in place to resolve them. In cases where a local authority is acting unreasonably in how it is fulfilling its sixth-form transport duties or has failed to produce a transport policy statement, the Secretary of State already has the power to direct a local authority to review its policy or to produce a policy statement. Therefore, an additional power for the Secretary of State to direct a local authority to review its statement is unnecessary.
The measures in clause 53 have an important part to play in ensuring local accountability in the implementation of the transport duty. I hope that clause 53 can stand part of the Bill unamended.
I thank the Minister for her comments, particularly as far as new clause 3 is concerned. I look forward to the results of the further reflection on that point, because it seems as if something has been left out. I am relieved that there is already a power, which exists simply as a backstop, because I would be one of the first to say that we should trust local authorities. However, there appear to be variations between authorities and it is important that the power exists. Since I have been reassured on that point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the two new clauses.