How much social distancing on school buses could cost county council

The need for social distancing on school buses could cost the county council an extra £17 million – more than doubling its usual annual spend.

Derbyshire County Council has revealed for the first time how much extra laying on dozens of additional school buses and coaches could cost it from September.

This follows several months in which the authority has said it was unable to say how many extra buses it would need, what adaptation may need to be made and what all of this could cost.

Due to social distancing measures, school transport vehicles will be at half capacity, meaning the council will need to lay on double as many.

This was confirmed by Peter Handford, the council’s finance chief last Thursday, July 23. 

The move to half capacity is an improvement on the number of pupils which the authority has said previously fit on the socially-distant transport.

It had said a 73-seater bus would have a capacity of just 16 pupils while a 53-seater coach would only be able to cater for 10 students.

Now, papers published by the authority ahead of a cabinet meeting next week say extra school transport costs could hit £17 million.

This is more than the total annual budget for home to school transport, including children with special education needs entitled to it through education, health and care plans.

The authority’s total annual budget for home to school transport is £15.5 million.

It has still not specified how many buses it suggests it may need or what adaptations may need to be put in place.

The authority suggests the estimated £17 million extra cost could be reduced if students opt not to take school transport and either walk, cycle or get a lift instead.

Last week it put further pressure on parents not to send their kids on school transport – despite being entitled to it.

Cllr Alex Dale, the council’s cabinet member for young people, said the authority’s “resources are limited”.

He said: “We’d encourage all parents to think about walking, cycling or scooting to school, and to let us know what we could do to help with that.”

The authority provides school transport for 6,500 students who are legally entitled to it.

In a statement at the end of May, the council stressed that “wherever possible” students should avoid public transport and walk, cycle or catch a lift, acknowledging that “for some this will not be possible”.

Meanwhile, in June, the authority said that Derbyshire school bus drivers will be able to refuse transport to pupils not wearing a face covering.

It said all Year Six, Year 10 and Year 12 students using school transport will also have to wear a face covering for the entirety of the journey.

The authority said young children in Reception and Year One are “unlikely” to be able to wear face coverings and “discretion” should be used by school transport drivers.

Drivers are also expected to wear a face covering at all times during journeys.

The extra £17 million cost for school transport is a major part of the significant financial pressure faced by the council caused by the pandemic.

Mr Handford said this week that the authority faces an overspend of more than £45 million by March – eight per cent of its total budget.

In June, Mr Handford said the council has been hit by a financial impact of £120 million – including extra costs, income shortfall and delayed savings.

The council announced proposed cuts of £70,000 to its home to school transport service in January for routes it is obligated to provide.

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