MONMOUTHSHIRE County Council has responded to a claim from MP David Davies, who says sixth form students could be forced into cars after the size of school buses were reduced to tackle climate change - a move he described as “idiotic”.
A spokesperson for MCC said: “Monmouthshire County Council already exceeds the requirements of the Learner Travel Measure, which defines those eligible for free transport. We provide free transport for those attending faith and Welsh medium and those living more than 1.5 (primary learners) or two (secondary learners) away from their catchment or nearest suitable school.
“Monmouthshire is also developing and improving existing active travel and safe routes to school to allow more learners who are not eligible for free transport to safely get to school on foot, by bike or scooter, with all the health benefits that brings.”
“We continually review our school bus routes to reflect changes in passengers and ensure that we are reducing the number of vehicles and their size to reduce both our carbon emissions and the increasing cost of providing school transport, which cost the Authority more than £6 million in 22/23. Every learner eligible for free home to school transport has access to transport and will continue to do so. We make vacant seats available to learners who do not meet the eligibility criteria, e.g., Post 16 learners at a subsidised cost of £440, which are allocated based on their application date.”
Local MP David Davies suggested that MCC has decided to use the “smallest buses possible” for school transport under its climate change policy.
While post-16 learners are not entitled to free-home-to-school transport, the council does offer spare seats on a discretionary and heavily subsidised first come, first served basis.
But with smaller buses now operating on school routes across the county, many sixth formers have been told there is no room – forcing angry parents to drive them instead.
Local MP David Davies said it was a “staggering mindset” and made a “mockery” of the council’s intention to achieve net-zero.
In an email to Mr Davies, Labour-cabinet member for education Martyn Groucutt confirmed: “The requirement to provide free transport to school for those who qualify only applies to learners up to the age of 16.
“It has never been the policy of Monmouthshire to provide free transport for sixth form pupils and this is made clear in our documentation for people who are considering making an application for travel.
“In cases where there are spare seats available on school routes, they are offered to post-16 learners on a discretionary and heavily subsidised ‘first come first served’ basis. If there were any such seats when the allocations were made, they would have been filled at the start of term.
“However, since the council has a duty to work towards achieving zero-carbon under its climate emergency policy, great efforts have been made to ensure that buses used for school transport are the smallest ones possible to meet statutory need on its services.”
Cllr Groucutt said this meant there has been a reduction in the number of discretionary places available for sixth form pupils across the county for the current school year.
Mr Davies said it was “preposterous” and called on the council to urgently reconsider.
The Monmouth MP said: “What the Labour administration is doing is utterly ridiculous and I sincerely hope other local authorities across Wales will not be following suit.
“Reducing school bus places and forcing children to travel to school by car instead to save the planet is a staggering mindset and flies in the face of environmental concern.
“I have been contacted by several bemused families who have been refused transport because of the smaller buses and one parent is even contemplating a career change to get their child to school.
“I will be pointing out the idiocy of this policy to the council leader and asking for urgent reconsideration.”
Cabinet Member for Education, Councillor Martyn Groucutt, said: “I have already been in contact with David Davies, who has been representing parents who have sought free or subsidised travel for learners who are not eligible for free home to school transport. To provide more or larger transport to enable those who are not entitled to free transport is unfair to the taxpayers of Monmouthshire. Every child in Monmouthshire entitled to free transport continues to receive it. We will continue to respond to the climate emergency and implement measures to reduce our emissions. The suggestion from David Davies that we provide transport for learners who do not qualify for it is wrong and clearly fails to take into account the resulting cost, both financial and carbon emissions.”