Councils across the UK have been facing increasing pressure to deliver home-to-school transportation services to local areas. And spending is set to rise further each year. This can be attributed to a number of factors including the driver shortage, rising fuel costs, demand on the service, covid restrictions and stretched budgets.
However, there is an increasing disparity between the costs for rural areas compared to urban locations. Research commissioned by the Local Government Association in 2019, focusing on understanding home to school transport costs, said, “Arguably the most significant factor underpinning [these] variations in expenditure is the size and rurality of different areas.”
At its heart, this is due to the distance and eligibility requirements, for instance if the requirements are set to be over three miles, more individuals will be eligible in rural locations compared with cities or towns. The County Councils Network Report (2018) shows, “The average per-pupil cost of delivering home to school transport in county areas is £93 per pupil, almost ten times the average in urban and city areas, where the average cost is £10 per pupil.” A huge difference, especially for councils managing large areas with limited budgets.
Local authorities have also had rising demand for special educational needs (SEN) transport provision. Many pupils are travelling further to reach SEN schools, which are often outside the local area. Not only is this a greater cost for fuel and time, but councils need to source suitable transportation to fit the individuals’ requirements. This often leads to additional expense and a limited number of suppliers to choose from.
Graham Biggs, Rural Services Network Chief Executive, explains the importance of ‘levelling up’ rural areas to provide young people with equal educational opportunities. “That’s the reality for many young people. There are distinct challenges that come with living in rural and isolated areas, especially with regard to sixth form colleges” (Rural Services Network, 2020). Graham continues by referring to Rural England’s report which revealed only 45.5% of rural pupils go on to higher education compared with the national average of 50%. Services such as home-to-school transportation are invaluable to help connect and provide further opportunities to young people.
So how can councils reduce their spending for rural home-to-school transport without adjusting eligibility requirements of the distance travelled per pupil?
Increase marketplace competition
The most effective way to reduce overall costs is to expand the provider marketplace and create more competition amongst suppliers. This also gives councils greater choice when it comes to providing suitable, high-quality SEN transport. Managing a large number of providers can be a challenge for local authorities with small teams, however digital technologies such as the adam transport solution, can eradicate this problem by managing supplier onboarding, compliance checks, contracts and payments, all in a single platform.
Invest in technology to improve provider visibility
Councils need a clear view of the providers they are working with to accurately place pupils and manage costs. For many local authorities this is often a manual process which can cause lengthy delays and added stress for all parties. Investing in commissioning technology can reduce the burden on staff and ensure they have full visibility of the service. The adam Transport platform provides a range of reporting tools to help councils make informed decisions and plan for the future. With this in place, local authorities are much more agile and able to adapt to changing circumstances.
For Milton Keynes Council (MKC), this was invaluable when dealing with Covid-19 restrictions and regulations. Since working with adam, Ian Fraser, Strategic Lead for Children’s Transport comments that the MKC team had previously “felt the weight of the responsibility of the decisions they were making. The new systems give them clarity and confidence which have helped them feel more secure in their roles.”
Digital transport solutions can also help to map routes, finding the most efficient and suitable journey and offering a single course for multiple people, if applicable. This can drastically cut down on the number of routes and the distance travelled.
Choose local providers
Local providers can help to minimise costs by reducing the distance travelled for the supplier. In turn, this helps to lower fuel costs, but more importantly, it is a way of investing in the local economy and community.
Improving relationships with rural communities helps to keep people connected and gain access to wider opportunities. Local providers can also be a great resource when making improvements to the area such as sustainable change, public transport and SEN services.
Sutton Council worked with adam to enhance their home-to-school transport commissioning and reach their vision to become ‘a great place to live’. Discover the full story in our case study.
Source sustainable transportation
Finally, councils should invest in sustainable transport solutions to achieve long term savings and improved wellbeing in the local community. Councillor James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association said “Councils are a unique and powerful partner in achieving net zero, able to impact on more than a third of all emissions from villages, towns and cities, such as through housing, transport and the natural environment.”
Transport is one of the biggest polluters and it can be difficult to tackle. By focusing on greener transport solutions and encouraging providers to become more sustainable, councils can reduce their overall footprint and provide a healthier service to the community. Take a look at our tips on becoming a greener council here.
Rural home-to-school transport costs will always remain higher per pupil compared with urban costs, but councils can proactively reduce overall spend and improve their provider marketplace.