Taxis to school are ‘lifeline’ for children with special needs but councils face ‘unsustainable’ transport costs
England’s largest councils have told Sky News they’re facing a “simply unsustainable” funding crisis due to the soaring cost of transporting children with special needs to school.
More money is now being spent on taxis and minibuses for SEND (Special Educational Needs or Disability) pupils by county councils than on family, youth and sure start services combined.
School transport budgets are being described by the County Councils Network as “increasingly out of control”.
Some even face future bankruptcy if expenditure on special needs school transport stays the same, without intervention, it said.
It is also warning some “discretionary services”, such as libraries and recycling centres, may have to be cut.
A report by the Isos Partnership, released early to Sky News, predicts the cost of sending children with educational needs to school will top £1.1bn in the next five years.
That figure would mean costs tripling over a decade from £397m in 2018/19 to £1.1bn in 2027/28.
The number of pupils eligible for free school transport has increased by 120% in the same period from 58,000 to 129,000.
The increase in cost is driven by the “explosion” in the number of children receiving Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs), which set out support needed including transport.
ECHPs are legal documents that all councils must adhere to.
The number of children on these plans has doubled in eight years from 105,000 to 230,000 this year.
The same number of SEND students are also now using cars and taxis as they are minibuses to get to school.
Councillor Tim Oliver, chair of the County Councils Network, describes the rising costs of transport as the “single biggest pressure” facing councils.
He told Sky News the current situation is “simply not sustainable”.
“The consequences are that if we can’t balance the budgets, then we will have to stop other services,” he said.
“It’s as simple as that… the discretionary services, so technically that will be the libraries, some councils may have to close their libraries or shorten their hours.
“We will have to look at the cost of the recycling centres.
“The statutory responsibilities are to look after vulnerable people and vulnerable children, social care responsibilities, everything else broadly are discretionary services so all of those potentially will be at risk.”
The County Councils Network is warning of a £4bn funding deficit over the next three years.
One in 10 councils say they are at risk of insolvency this year, rising to four in 10 in 2024/25 and six in 10 by 2025/26.
Council leaders are calling on the government to step in and provide an “emergency injection of resources” in next week’s autumn statement mini-budget.
Lyndsay Critchlow’s two sons have been diagnosed with Autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).
Both Harvey, eight, and William, 10, attend a special school around a 40-minute drive away from home.
Their parents can’t drive, and so the boys are transported to classes using a private taxi and personal assistant paid for by the council.
It costs around £17,000 a year.
“It is a lot of money,” Lyndsay says, “but there was nowhere around here that we could find that could meet their needs”.
“Their anxiety is the lowest I’ve ever seen… it’s a lifeline”.
Eight-year-old Harvey says he really enjoys going to school now “because they understand me more”.
The boys’ father, Philip Critchlow, also describes the difference in his sons: “Two years ago they were completely different children than what you see today.
“Quite literally, they were quiet and inattentive, maybe saying the odd thing.
“And it was heartbreaking to see. Now they get to be children again.
“And that’s worth more than anything.”
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A government spokesperson said: “Every child should have access to a high-quality education, including those with special educational needs.
“Councils are responsible for providing the right support for children in their areas, including school transport.
“Our published SEND and AP improvement plan sets out how we will make sure all children with special needs and disabilities receive the support they need.
“We are also putting significant investment into the high needs budget, which is increasing by a further £440m for 2024-25, bringing total funding to £10.5bn – an increase of over 60% since 2019-20.”
UK weather: New warnings issued as 1,500 properties still without power
Around 1,500 homes and businesses are still without power after heavy snow caused major power cuts in Cumbria.
It came as much of the country was hit by cold and wet conditions over the weekend, including a low of -12.5C recorded in northern Scotland overnight.
Freezing conditions are forecast to continue on Monday and the Met Office has issued new yellow weather warnings for snow, ice and rain.
Cumbria was one of the worst affected regions over the weekend, with up to 30cm of snow falling in places.
Officials declared a major incident in the county on Saturday and advised people not to travel unless necessary.
Dozens of motorists in the Lake District were forced to abandon their cars overnight. Many were forced to seek refuge in local community centres, primary schools and a church.
Electricity North West said its engineers had been “battling treacherous conditions” throughout the weekend and were still working on restoring supplies on Sunday evening.
Another 7,500 homes and businesses have been reconnected after earlier being hit by power cuts.
The weather also caused disruption to travel, including at East Midlands Airport, which was forced to temporarily close its runway on Sunday.
It came after some flights were cancelled at Glasgow Airport and London Stansted Airport on Saturday.
The Met Office’s new weather warnings include alerts for ice across much of northern England and parts of the Midlands, as well as snow for higher areas of Wales and the Peak District.
The weather agency said there was a risk that snow will lead to major travel disruption and there could be “accumulations of 2cm to 5cm on some roads above around 150m, and perhaps 10cm to 15cm on roads above around 350m”.
The warning runs from Sunday evening until 12pm on Monday.
The Met Office also issued a yellow weather warning for rain across parts of southern Wales and southwest England, with the alert due to come into force from midnight and run until 6pm on Monday.
Forecasters said there was a risk of flooding to some homes and businesses, as well as potential disruption to train and bus services.
The RAC warned northern parts of the country were facing an “ice rink on Monday as snow refreezes overnight” and advised motorists to take care.
Spokesperson Simon Williams said: “We’re expecting some very treacherous icy conditions in northern parts, so those who have to drive should exercise great caution.
“If it’s possible to delay or even abandon journeys that may well be the best option.”
However, Met Office meteorologist Tom Morgan said the weather would likely become milder later in the week.
He added: “So there is an end in sight to the wintry weather.”
Rishi Sunak suggests more tax cuts are on the way – but refuses to commit to triple lock manifesto pledge
Rishi Sunak has suggested more tax cuts are on the way because the economy has “turned a corner”.
The prime minister told reporters that while he would not comment on specifics, trimming taxes was “the direction of travel from this government”.
But it came as he refused to say if the pensions triple lock would be in the next Conservative Party manifesto – despite Downing Street insisting in September that it was “committed” to the policy.
Mr Sunak’s comments echo similar remarks by his ministers in recent weeks.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also said last month that the economy had “turned a corner” just before he unveiled a cut to National Insurance in the Autumn Statement.
However, four million people could also end up paying higher taxes if their wages rise after the government decided to continue the freeze on tax thresholds.
Reports suggest the Conservatives are considering additional cuts in 2024 as the party tries to woo voters and reduce Labour’s 20-point lead in opinion polls ahead of the next general election, which must take place by January 28 2025.
Cuts to stamp duty and inheritance tax are among the options reportedly being looked at by ministers.
When asked about the two policies, Mr Sunak said: “I would never comment on specific taxes. But what I will just say, though, is we have turned a corner.
“We have got inflation down, as I said we would, we have grown the economy and we are now focused on controlling spending and controlling welfare so we can cut taxes. So when we can do more, we will.”
He added: “We want to grow the economy, we want to reward people’s hard work and aspirations and cut their taxes responsibly. That is the direction of travel from this government.
“If you want controlled public spending, controlled welfare and your taxes cut, then vote Conservative.”
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Mr Sunak was unable to make similar promises about the triple lock, which ensures the state pension must rise every April by whichever is highest out of average earnings, inflation or 2.5%.
The policy has come under fire in recent months by critics who claim it has become too expensive and gives the government less financial “headroom” to deal with economic shocks.
Some senior Tories have called for it to be scrapped and Labour has refused to guarantee the triple lock will remain in place if it wins the next election.
While the government continued with the policy in its recent Autumn Statement, ensuring the state pension will rise by 8.5% in April 2024 to £221.20 a week, Mr Sunak refused to be drawn when asked directly if it would be in the next Tory manifesto.
Speaking to journalists as he flew between the UK and Dubai for the COP28 summit, he replied: “[I’m] definitely not going to start writing the manifesto on the plane, as fun as that would be.”
Mr Sunak acknowledged there had been “some scepticism” about if policy was going to form part of the Autumn Statement, but said its inclusion had been “a signal of our commitment to look after our pensioners who have put a lot into our country”.
Reindeer block dual carriageway in Suffolk
A major road was closed by police in both directions after a “large number” of reindeer wandered in front of traffic.
Police were called to the scene, on the A11 near Barton Mills in Suffolk, at around 3.20pm on Sunday.
National Highways East said no traffic had been able to pass due to the “large number” of the animals on the road and added that police had been “trying to catch them”.
The reindeer eventually left the road at around 5.20pm and it was reopened shortly afterwards, officials said.
In an update on X, formerly Twitter, National Highways East confirmed police closed the A11 “in both directions between A1134 and A1101”.
There are not thought to be any wild reindeer in England and it is unclear where the animals came from.
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