Centralising Schools Raises Transport Costs – But School Transport is Excluded from Carmarthenshire’s Education Budget!
Closing small rural schools and replacing them with much larger centralised schools has big implications for transport. Pupils have further to travel, resulting in higher fuel costs and carbon emissions. The school closure process is advanced in Carmarthenshire – but neither travel costs nor pollution from engine emissions have been taken into account in the education budget.
School transport is not included in the budgeting for Carmarthenshire County Council’s spending on Education and Children’s Services, but is instead bundled into another division, Technical Services. The authority’s accounts for 2011-12 show that school and college transport cost £7,908,591 – almost £8 million. Transport to secondary schools made up a big part of this, £4,155,238.
Given the imperative to reduce noxious emissions, it makes no sense to me to separate School Transport from Education and Children’s Services, because it makes holistic planning more difficult. Transport is a fundamental part of education provision these days. Parents have a legal obligation to send children to school, and local authorities have legal obligations to provide transport if pupils live beyond specified distances, two miles for children under 8 and three miles for those aged 8 and over.
Decisions to centralise schools thus have continuing implications for transport distances and consequently for costs and emissions. When Pantycelyn high school in Llandovery closes, as now seems certain following the rejection of closure opponents’ appeal for a judicial review, pupils will have to journey to a new school on the far side of Llandeilo, 13 miles from Pantycelyn. The additional transport miles, fuel consumption, and emissions appear completely uncounted and unregarded within the education budget.
Is it a case of the left and right hands not communicating? While Carmarthenshire is excluding school transport from education costs, although it already adds up to the equivalent of almost 5% of the total £164.7 million net cost of the entire budget for Education and Children’s Services, the Pathfinder Programme of Community Action for Climate Change is funding 30 co-ordinators in Wales to develop climate change action plans that will, inevitably, have to involve reductions in transport emissions.
I really hope that one of the results of the Pathfinder Programme will be to make school transport an integral part of education planning and costing, so that the transport and emission implications come into the cost-benefit assessments, from the earliest stages of reorganisation plans.
Pat Dodd Racher, August 3rd 2012
 Transport to primary, community, secondary and special schools, to colleges, and the costs of passenger assistants on vehicles.