PARENTS in the Garstang area whose children are taken by taxi to special schools each day are in shock after being told they may be asked to contribute up to £1,200 towards their youngsters’ transport costs.
About 25 families in the Garstang district, whose children travel by taxi to special schools at Thornton (Red Marsh and Great Arley) and Hillside (near Longridge), are understood to be affected by the move.
One dad has been told that because his special needs child is taken to a special school more than eight miles from Garstang, he would have to contribute £1,200 a year towards the cost of the child’s taxi.
The parents of six other special needs pupils who travel together in the same taxi each day would also each be asked to pay the same amount if the charging proposals become county policy.
All the concerned parents - so far - wish to remain anonymous.
But one of the dads said: “They are picking on the vulnerable. They have said before they would protect front line services and protect the most vulnerable during the cuts - but you can’t get much more vulnerable than a child with special needs.
“I feel we are being penalised for living in Garstang. We are having to pay more because of where we live and that’s not fair on people in rural communities.
“I realise that savings need to be made but I don’t think they should be saving money by picking on young, vulnerable people.
“It has been suggested that they could go to a local mainstream school instead but how much would that cost?
“The school would need to get in specialist staff and facilities - the school isn’t geared up to cover all types of disabilities and my child has been assessed and it has been decided that a special school is the most appropriate environment.
“My child is happy at school and is safe and secure with good support - this would be very upsetting for them if they had to leave because we couldn’t afford to send them.’’
The dad said his family’s only option if this proposal went ahead would either be for his wife to give up work to become a full time carer, or the family would have to leave Garstang and move closer to the school.
“We don’t want to do that because we have family and a supportive network of friends here that can help us as well - why should our family be penalised because we have a child with special needs and we happen to live in a rural community?’’
Red Marsh headtacher Catherine Dellow said she could not comment and stressed the matter was only at the consultation stage. Alison Foster, head of Hillside School, Longridge, where it is understood several rural Wyre special needs children are pupils, was unavailable for comment.
The Courier asked County Hall to comment on the situation, and respond to the claim that County Hall was targeting the vulnerable.
County Coun Keith Iddon, lead member for children and schools, said: “We accept that transporting children and young people with disabilities to and from school or college is very costly, because transport must be properly tailored to each student’s needs.
“At the same time, we are facing enormous financial challenges, so we must make services as cost-effective as we can.
“The authority isn’t legally required to provide this service for young people over the age of 16 but we will continue to meet the larger part of these transport costs.
“Our transport bill for students with special educational needs and disabilities is over £15m. We are committed to reducing this by 20%, which is £2.9m over three years.
“We have already made significant savings in this area by reducing administrative costs and finding better deals when purchasing transport services.
“Until the end of March, we are asking parents and other interested parties for their views on sharing the cost of taking their children to school or college.
“Under the proposals, parents who receive certain benefits would be entitled to a 50% reduction in the charges.
“We should also bear in mind that children and young people who qualify for disability state benefits often receive a mobility payment as part of that benefit to help with the extra cost of getting around.”
A county spokesman said no decision had been reached on the matter, and the consultation was ongoing until March 27.
The consultation document and an online questionnaire can be viewed at www.lancashire.gov.uk/SENtransport
* Comment, page six